Optimism in a Falling World- 1 Corinthians 9:10; Mark 7:18, 20

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.

And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him;
And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.

COMMENTARY

He that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope
There have been times when I have proselyted the gospel from a sense of duty only. I did it because it was what I was supposed to do, with very little sincerity behind it. I did not expect to make any real impact in the lives of others, which resulted in a passionless effort, which resulted in a self-fulfilling failure.
You can plow all you want on rock, but you’re never going to raise a great crop on it. And you can proselyte in pessimism, but your ministry will never flourish. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, then you might as well not do it. For the work alone is insufficient, what matters is whether the heart lies in it.
If ever we want to reap the fruit of hope, we need to do our work in hope as well. Not begrudgingly and not half-heartedly, but sincerely and with all our hearts.

That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man
And if we cannot plow in hope and cannot thresh in hope, then the problem lies within us, not the work. If we reach into ourselves and find only pessimistic, half-hearted efforts to offer, then we need to pause and ask ourselves what is wrong with us. Before we can do our duty to our fellow man we’ve got to sort ourselves out first. Only when we’re right inside will there be good things that can come out of us and be shared with others.

Optimism in a Falling World- 1 Corinthians 13:3-7, 13

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

COMMENTARY

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity
As I contemplated what solutions the scriptures offer for the conundrum of cynicism, I had come to my mind the virtues of faith, hope and charity. And not only faith, hope, and charity towards God, but also towards His children. I will therefore be dedicating the next several posts to these topics, beginning with the matter of charity.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing
First of all I want to point out that charity is not just doing kind things to others. It is entirely possible to do one’s duty to their follow man and be wishing them ill the whole time. Consider the example we recently considered of Jonah, who preached to the people of Nineveh while hoping for their destruction.
As Paul suggests in this quoted verse, it doesn’t matter what you do towards the world if your heart has not been opened to charity. Charity is not about what you do, it is about why you do it.

Charity suffereth long, is kind, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil
I often hear of charity in terms of how spouses, parents and children, and members at church should treat one another. But today let us consider how charity applies to our relationship with the very people we believe are destroying the world. How should we behave to the people we want to change more than any other? Well, take a look at the descriptors I have selected for charity in this verse: longsuffering, not seeking its own, not easily provoked, and thinking no evil. How would those qualities look when applied to those we find hardest to love?
Well, speaking for myself, the image of brotherly kindness and love brought to mind is entirely impossible so long as I view these “others” as “others.” To apply such a patient understanding to my enemies I must first find a way to relabel them as my friends.

Calloused Hearts- Summary

Lately the winter months have been difficult for me. Maybe they always were and I just didn’t pick up on it until now. In any case, I have noticed a distinct apathy that comes over my heart at this time, a tendency to isolate, and a desire to pull back into emotional hibernation.
It was from this context that I began this study. Seeking both to understand why people come into these spiritually apathetic seasons and if there is anything we can do when caught in them.
The scriptures speak a great deal about peace within a storm, but I wanted to find accounts of fire within a stifling numbness! I did find a few insights that encourage me, but I should mention that this is definitely still a work in progress for me. Here are a few of the guiding principles that I have learned and which will be guiding me on my way forward.

Removing Our Own Burdens

Many times our distance from God is self-inflicted. And it doesn’t only have to be sin that keeps Him at arm’s length from us. Yes the soul that is burdened with unrepented vice will struggle to feel His love, but also the soul that is just complacent and lazy.
Our relationship to God is an actual relationship. It requires communication, it requires prioritization, it requires making sacrifices. Like every other healthy relationship, this one takes time and effort. It is hard. In fact it is more difficult due to how our connection to God can only be built on sacred ground, there is little of significance that He can say to our mask. He does not require us to be perfect to feel His light, but He does require us to be genuine and sincere.
And that is, perhaps, the greatest obstacle for me when I wish the spirit was more alive in my heart. It just doesn’t work if I am casual in my discipleship, if I offer a prayer with half my mind and none of my heart, if I’m not actively trying to be my truest self. God is not absent, He is already waiting in the deepest recesses of my soul, I just need to find my way back to there.
Enos 1:4-5- And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

3 Nephi 9:20- And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

Testing Our Capacity

Reaching that place of authenticity is difficult, but more difficult is to remain there. When we are caught up in a rapture it might be hard to imagine ever feeling spiritually apathetic again. But if in this spiritual awakenings eventually give way to spiritual sleep. I would like nothing more than to be convinced that endless rapture is possible to obtain during our mortal walk…but right now I doubt it.
Consider the feeling of wellness and purification one feels after a good workout. The blood flows freely through the veins, the heart pumps happily, the mind is fresh and alert, and all we would like is to remain in this physical state forever. But we don’t. Without constant physical stimulation our body reclines into a state of needed rest.
And initially this is a good thing. Both our bodies and our souls need to be stimulated and exercised, but then they also need a period to settle, to let the long-term benefits work their way in deep. The problem arises when rest and rejuvenation is not then followed up with stimulation again. If left too long, relaxation just becomes laziness.
We do not have to be in a constant state of rapture, just as we do not have to constantly exercise. But if we will pursue spiritual experiences and exercise as a regular habit, then comes an overall improvement of spiritual and physical life. We will be more awakened, even when in a state of repose. And we will become able to push even deeper and deeper into spiritual and physical health.
Matthew 15:32, 37- Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.
And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.

John 10:10- The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

Relying on Grace

It is only natural that our own betterment depends on our own effort. This system is good for us, it promotes agency and independence, it motivates to work through the hard to get to the better.
But we can become obsessed with trying to do it all on our own. We can hold ourselves to impossible standards, we can get frustrated at our inability to reach the unreachable, we can become stuck because we aren’t accepting help.
And in this matter of bringing our hearts back to life we need to realize that all our efforts really do is invite the awakening of our souls. They do not enact the actual awakening. The awakening happens as a miracle, it is performed only by God.
And in my experience, once I permit Him to do so, God instigates the awakening of my heart far sooner than I expected and far more fully, too. Once I stop getting in His way I discover that He truly is gracious and liberal with His love.
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.
Mark 9:23-24- Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
Ephesians 2:4-5- But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Calloused Hearts- 3 Nephi 9:20

And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.

COMMENTARY

And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit
Thus far in this study I have examined our need to give up our stony heart for one of flesh, and also the need to humble ourselves enough to receive that transplant.
Under that context, consider today’s verse. Here the Lord speaks of our old heart needing to be broken and sacrificed before we are baptized into His fold. In other words, coming to God is going to break the person that we were! Is it any wonder that fully coming to God is so difficult for us then? Is it any wonder that we shrink back into our calloused heart at the first sign of complete surrender? We edge closer and closer to the precipice, tease at taking the plunge, but there remains a world of difference between getting close to the edge and actually taking that leap of faith.
We want to have a full life, but are we willing to give up what little we already have to receive it? Because there just isn’t space for Him to raise the new us so long as we’re still clinging to the old one. It isn’t a cruelty of God to ask for a sacrifice of our heart, it is simply a necessity.

Calloused Hearts- Enos 1:2-5

And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

COMMENTARY

And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God
My soul hungered
I cried unto him in mighty prayer
All the day long did I cry unto him
I did raise my voice high that it reached the heavens

Look at what powerful earnestness is in these verses from Enos. Look at how much he wanted this absolution from sin. Look at how long he worked before finding the voice of the Lord.
And he put in this much effort because that was how much effort it took. He didn’t put in only an hour, because he hadn’t found God yet after an hour. And he didn’t call it quits after a half day, because he hadn’t found God in half a day. He kept with it until he found his way through. And I am inclined to believe that God was not simply waiting for some arbitrary amount of time to elapse before reaching out, but rather He was simply waiting on Enos to be ready to receive Him. God spoke after a day because after a day Enos was in the right place.
So, too, when my own heart feels covered in moss and disconnected from God. If I want that connection restored I have to ask myself whether I am willing to pursue that connection for as far as it has to be pursued. Am I willing to ask for what I need to ask? Am I willing to give up what I need to give up? Am I willing to become what I need to become? And if the answers to any of those is “not yet,” then am I willing to keep wrestling with it until I am willing?

Calloused Hearts- 1 Nephi 2:16

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.

COMMENTARY

I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe
Yesterday I examined how our fallen, stony hearts are remade into something more alive and spiritual by divine interaction. That idea is further supported in this passage, where Nephi finds his own soul softened by heavenly ministrations.
Nephi opened the way but he did not change his own heart by himself. He had to let God do that for him. But there is a lot of significance in that “letting.” Nephi could have not reached out and not had his heart made soft, and things would have been very different if he hadn’t. It was a choice and an action on his part, but the transformation that followed was God’s.

Calloused Hearts- 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.

COMMENTARY

A new heart also will I give you, I will take away the stony heart, and give you an heart of flesh
I believe this verse captures exactly the difference I was describing when I wrote of a “calloused heart” and a “heart that was made alive.” Describing the unfeeling, spiritually cut-off, cynical heart as “stony” is perfectly fitting. Cold and hard and dead and unmalleable.
And this verse seems to make clear that a “heart of flesh” is something that is given of God as a sort of miracle. We don’t tenderize our heart into submission, we ask Him to replace it within us. God designed the first people and he designed them to dwell directly in His presence. But then humanity fell and now our hearts are formed within that fallen sphere. So we must ask Him to redo His act of creation in us. We need to stop trying to make our fallen heart into something it cannot be and have Him replace it for us entirely.

Calloused Hearts- 1 Kings 19:11-13

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

COMMENTARY

And the Lord passed by, and a great wind rent the mountains; but the Lord was not in the wind
And after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire
The Lord was somewhere around Elijah, passing by, but He could not be perceived. There were other loud and impressive forces going on at the same time, which were magnificent in their own way, but the Lord just wasn’t to be found in them.
Sometimes there is too much loudness in my own life to perceive God as well. I become bored in quiet moments and look for a song or a video or a notification to keep me stimulated. And maybe I will be able to find something loud, impressive, and even magnificent there…but I won’t be able to find God.

And after the fire a still small voice
God is always about us, but it is very, very rare that He uses His voice of thunder. Instead, if we want to hear Him, we will have to be very quiet and still.
I believe He speaks so softly because He does not want to be heard by just a part of us. He wants to be heard in the heart so that we are likely to heed Him. He wants us to fully be ourselves, with no other baggage to get in the way. So He will wait until we come fully into our own hearts and are our most authentic self, and then we will find Him.

Calloused Hearts- 2 Kings 5:10-11, 13-14

And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.
But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.
And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?
Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

COMMENTARY

But Naaman was wroth, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper
I mentioned yesterday that when I pray for a fire in my heart, God usually responds with a prompting of something good I should do. As it turns out I have a specific and recent example of this.
I shared recently about my desire to gain a healthier relationship with food and my body.
But when I tried to force that healthier lifestyle on myself things backfired. I became more unhealthy and I felt this calloused heart grow within me. I lost my burning to be my best self. I kept praying for God to wake up my heart, to change me so that I could just do the right things again, to win this fight for me. But I still wasn’t getting anywhere, and that was the whole reason I began this very study.
When I read these verses from 2 Kings I realized that Naaman is a perfect example for my feelings. I had faith, I asked for what I was supposed to ask for, I thought God would come out and give me the cure! So now I felt bitter instead.

My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?
I can also relate to Naaman that if there was not an immediate, miraculous healing, then at least I would expect some great sacrifice or test to unlock the blessings I sought. I asked God what He needed from me and then listened for something large and related to my physical health…but He didn’t ask for that.
Then, while listening to a sermon in Church this Sunday, I finally understood. Praying and asking for a vibrant heart was only half the recipe. I needed to meet it with a deliberate, good action. Not some epic sacrifice, though, just one of those small, little things that seem of no consequence, but which we feel in our hearts are just right to do. Ask for help, show my faith by my works, and God could work with that.
I’m only three days into this new approach but it already feels more pure and more effective. I went through all the things that I’ve felt I ought to be doing but could take care of later, and started implementing them now. Things like getting to bed on time, removing distractions from work, and getting the house clean. These have very little to do with changing my relationship to food, but everything to do with repairing my relationship to God. And already the desire to do all other good things is growing within me. I would say that I have dipped in the river Jordan once, but like Naaman this is going to take multiple washings.

Calloused Hearts- John 10:10

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

COMMENTARY

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy
Once we dwelled with a direct connection to God, now being apart from Him feels like being spiritually catatonic. It is a debilitating condition, one that many of us misdiagnose and then chase all manner of false remedies to try and fix.
These remedies are like the thieves described in this verse, come to sink us even lower than we were before. Some of them promise artificial sustenance through addictions, others promise release through numbness to the pain. Both of these paths deaden our soul more than it already was. They distract us by over-stimulation or by silencing of the senses, all while leaving the spirit entirely dissatisfied.

I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly
What we really need is to recognize that our souls just aren’t designed to live without a connection to our Maker. We simply cannot thrive without Him, it isn’t possible.
Man did not breathe until God put it into his nostrils to do so, and the soul does not thrive until God has been allowed to stoke a fire within it.