Thought for the Day- What We Accomplish
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.
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.
The Epic Life- Alma 11:24, John 12:43, 1 Nephi 8:26-28
Believest thou that there is no God? I say unto you, Nay, thou knowest that there is a God, but thou lovest that lucre more than him.
For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.
And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.
And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.
Thou knowest that there is a God, but thou lovest that lucre more than him
For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God
A great and spacious building filled with people, and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine, and they were mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who were partaking of the fruit
In my last post I mentioned that when we are unwilling to embark on the epic life that God offers, that then we seek a counterfeit version, trying to replace a life of spiritual significance for one of worldly fame.
And as these verses suggest, there arises a competition between these different paths of life. I’ve seen it in my own life, even in my own self. I am as susceptible as everyone else to the temptation of vanity. I know what it is to desire the goods and recognition of my fellow man, to want to be seen as important and somehow better than others. And I can attest that when I am in such a state I truly do feel antagonistic to the things of God. When I am shallow and self-obsessed I become cynical; I assume that all people are just as shallow and self-obsessed as I am, and I believe that those who seem more spiritual are simply too hypocritical to show it. It’s an understandable mindset, I suppose, but also a deeply warped one.
Of course, it is possible to seek the truly epic life, the one that comes through a partnership with God, and while in that cause have public notoriety become attached to us as a side-effect. Think of Joseph sold into Egypt and becoming the second-in-command of that nation. Think of Daniel becoming an advisor to kings. Think of Jesus causing powerful stirs among the public. But each of these men sought God first and then the fame was a mere periphery to that.
That is what matters most: which ambition is it that sits first in our hearts? For as today’s verses show: when we seek the praise and riches of the world first and foremost, then we tend to ridicule those that still seek the original article.
The Epic Life- Question
There is something stifling about the idea of living an “average life.” Each of us wants to have a story that is significant, unique, and even epic in some way. Perhaps not every aspect of it has to be the most dramatic, but we want at least one area that is truly special.
We read stories of people that walked this epic path many times throughout the scriptures. Moses working miracles before Pharaoh, David slaying Goliath, the Israelites shouting down the walls of Jericho, Jonah swallowed by a whale, Daniel playing with lions, Samson with his incredible strength, Jacob serving fourteen years for the woman he loved, and Esther petitioning for her people.
All these examples would seem to suggest that the epic life is divinely approved. All these people came to their greatness while in the service of God. And that the epic life is such a common desire would further suggest that it comes to each of us from the same heavenly source. If this desire is baked into our very souls, if it is part of our birthright as children of God, then no wonder we crave it like food and water.
But at the same time, there are also many stories of men and women today who chase for greatness at the expense of their families. They try to accomplish something great in their career, or in their education, or even in their church, and all the while their family is left lonely at home.
I want to consider where this desire for the epic life comes from. How this desire is appropriately wielded, and how it is misused. I want to examine how one can properly go about finding their divine purpose and not be caught up by vanity along the way.
In the meantime, I would love to hear where your own journey for a life of significance has brought you. How did you come to know what your own purpose was? Or are you still looking for it? Have you been hurt by another’s negligence while they sought their own great story? What do you feel is the proper balance between reaching for more versus being content with what you already have?
The Doing Muscle- 1 Corinthians 10:13, Matthew 6:33
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man
If there is anything that keeps us from doing the things we want to do, it probably exists under the umbrella of temptation. Temptation to go back to our old ways, temptation to procrastinate, temptation to just plain be lazy. If it weren’t for friction we would all do exactly what we intended to do, and temptation is the greatest source of friction out there.
But God is faithful, who will with the temptation also make a way to escape
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness
But fortunately for us, temptation has its cure. It’s easy to think that self-improvement can only be done by–well–the self. We assume that it is our personal cross to bear, unable to receive any outside help. However this isn’t the case. A change of heart does require effort from us, but it also requires a miracle from God.
And so the guidance in these verses is to seek the kingdom of God first. We should build up our connection to him, learn how hear His voice, learn how to invoke His blessings in our lives. If we build on that foundation first then we can work with Him on every other element of self-improvement together.
Worthy Vessels- Matthew 23:25-26
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
Ye make clean the outside of the cup, but within they are full of extortion and excess
Jesus’s condemnation of trying to only clean the exterior rings all too true for me. I would vigorously endeavor to put on a shining appearance, while holding to vice and doubt within. I wanted people to think that I was a Godly person, while privately keeping Him at arms length.
Cleanse first that which is within the cup, that the outside of them may be clean also
This first hypocrisy I was aware of, even at the time, yet there was another fault in my discipleship that I did not recognize until performing this very study. I have also polished my exterior in terms of trying to “make myself useful” to God. I, and others like me, put a lot of effort into trying to be intelligent, well-spoken, and persuasive, hoping that this will allow us to champion God’s cause in a bold and eloquent manner.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong in trying to be a more convincing person, but I have seen in myself how it can become a distraction. I can be so concerned with being able to say things well, that I forget to gain a personal testimony of the things I am even trying to say! This is once again cleaning the outer vessel only.
The best preparation for communicating the gospel is by living it earnestly and whole-heartedly, without worrying about what the external appearance will be. As Jesus promises, those that first clean themselves within will find that the outside takes care of itself. I have seen how those that simply try to purify their hearts end up also becoming more intelligent, kind, and sincere without even trying.
All or Nothing- John 6:67-69, Matthew 13:45-46
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
To whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
Not all of Jesus’s followers stayed with him. Sometimes the doctrine he taught caught them off guard, and disciples that were offended by the message abandoned him. At such a time he turned to the twelve and asked if they, too, would leave him.
Peter’s response is an important lesson to us all. The Savior offers us things that simply cannot be found anywhere else. If we leave to pursue other paths, we are closing the door on things that will never be replaced.
When he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
In the parable of the merchant and the pearl, we similarly see a man who finds a treasure of greater worth than any other. It doesn’t matter what else fills his coffers, none of it can compare to this one ultimate jewel. So he lets all other possessions go, and gladly. At this point they would only get in the way.
It is worth considering whether we view the gospel of Christ with the same reverence as this merchant and Peter. Do we view at as just a nice thing that we accept parts of, but then abandon as soon as it challenges us? Or do we hold it as the ultimate treasure, irreplaceable by any other, and worthy of every sacrifice to obtain?
Making Time for God- Luke 10:38-42, Matthew 4:4
Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.
And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things
Sometimes it is “good” things that are taking our time away from the sublime. A father might stay late at work to provide, but miss out on being with his family. A wife might tirelessly serve her community, but never have time to connect with God. A youth might strive for a good grade, but be distracted from hearing her higher calling.
We can do these “good” things and by worldly terms have a “good life.” On the exterior we might appear entirely accomplished and complete. But then, we so very often see just these sorts of accomplished, successful people implode. Why? Because “good” is simply not “good enough.”
But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God
A life full of “good” things is incomplete, because the world’s “good” leaves the spirit starved. We are inseparably tied to an eternal soul, and that part will settle for nothing less than the sublime.
No career achievement, no worldly fame, no admiration of others is going to be able to fill that hole in us. No amount of worldly bread or social duty is enough to feed the soul. That is the truth that Jesus asserted both when rejecting Satan’s temptation and correcting Martha’s priorities.
Making Time for God- Matthew 9:16-17
No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.
Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.
No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for the rent is made worse
Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out
Jesus was here describing two everyday phenomena in the ancient Jewish world. Patches of new clothing then, as now, would shrink after getting wet. Therefore, if one patched an old garment with unshrunken cloth, then after the first washing it would shrink and the original hole would be made even worse.
Also, new wine expands during the fermentation process. Bottles were made from animal skins, and old ones were not elastic enough to handle the expansion of the wine and would burst. Bottles made from new skins would be able to flex and stay preserved.
I never understood these passages until I decided to finally make time for God in my life. As I looked at my daily schedule I found that I had filled it to the brim with other things. There wasn’t any room for God. I tried to shove Him in anyway and things started to tear and burst. Important things on my to-do list were being left undone, I wasn’t maintaining a healthy balance, and my life was unsustainable.
Eventually I realized that I had get myself some new bottles. I went to my calendar and took everything out, brought it back to a clean slate. Then I added things back in one-at-a-time, this time starting with God. In the end not everything was able to get back into my schedule, some things had to be let go.
Make no mistake about it, choosing to prioritize God is going to disrupt your life. Not everything that you do now is going to carry through. But I do promise you that the change will be worth it. You will be filled with new wine and clothed in new robes, and they will feel right to you.