And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine, and go after that which is lost
At the start of this study I considered Abraham pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah to be spared if even a few righteous people could be found therein. That same mentality is present in this parable from Jesus, where a shepherd will venture out to find even one lost sheep, leaving the masses to focus on the individual.
And I believe that this same mentality greatly helps when trying to maintain hope in a conflicted world. It is easier to despair over a vaguely defined group than over an individual with a face and a name. It is easy to label an entire faction as purely evil, but when we look into the eyes of a child of God we can’t help but see that even among their flaws they still have their divine potential. I might struggle at times to see the good in all people, but I can always find it in a person. Thus if you are finding it hard to have faith in the world perhaps you could start focusing on “the one” instead.
I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth
If you bring one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
For even if our worst fears were confirmed and the whole world spiraled down to hell, it would still behoove us to save what souls we could along the way. Our mentality should be like that of firefighters, who do not only enter the burning building when they can save a full 100% of the occupants. They will charge to the rescue even when they can only save a few, or even when they can save only one…and so should we.
Thus if you haven’t figured out how to save the entire world, that’s perfectly alright, none of us have. Only God can worry about salvation on that scale! For you and I, we just save the ones we can.
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.
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.
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.
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
We have spoken about how we tend to fear the world, and have a strong desire to conform to it. This eventually leads us to compromise our conscience, which results in us feeling broken and unworthy.
And so we are, for we have traded God for carnality, and have consigned our fate with the rest of this temporary, soon-to-die world. The pain that we feel is nothing more than the accurate and appropriate realization of our own condemnation. Our fates are now sealed with this world forever.
Or so they would be…if one had not come to overcome the world. When Jesus speaks of his conquering the mortal realm, it has two applications in our life. The first is that he is able to ransom our hearts from the fallen world tp which we have sold it. He brings us back to belonging to heaven, and not to earth. The second application is that he can overcome the fear of the world in our hearts, so that we do not feel so compelled to sell ourselves to it again in the future. He both frees us, and enables us to remain free.
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.
And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul
The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak
I am opposed to the notion of despising one’s body, seeing it as a vessel purely for temptation and imperfection. Our lives are a gift given directly by God, and by extension, so are our mortal forms. So I am grateful for my body, and I believe it is a wonderful instrument unlike any other upon this earth…. But, I do acknowledge that it truly is “upon this earth.” My body is temporal and, therefore subject to the laws of our fallen world. Laws such as physics and entropy: it must obey them. If it is cut it will bleed, that is undeniable. If it is overly fatigued, its moral resolve will decline, that is undeniable, too. It must be sick at times, it must be tempted at times, it must even die at a time.
Thus, in the eternal scheme of things, does it really matter that the body might be made momentarily uncomfortable in the service of God and others? Yes, it’s inconvenient, but it is the loss of things that were only temporary anyway.
Perhaps becoming healthy and balanced does not feed our immediate pleasures. Perhaps setting aside gratification to help another seems like drudgery. Perhaps governing our bodies by the will of God sounds less fun. What do these mortal costs really amount to, though, when compared to the eternal liberation of the soul that is gained in return?
Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost
Jesus came to fill the full measure of a man, and that included dying a painful death, even one administered at the hands of others. Though he had the power to rebuke their attacks, he did not. He willingly surrendered his body to their breaking.
Never, though, did he give them his spirit. That was reserved for one being, and one being alone. The Father. No matter what the world might do to his body, they never once had access to his divinity.
By the redeeming power of his sacrifice, Jesus is able to safeguard our own divinity as well. But in return he does ask that we follow his example of enduring whatever cross we are called to bear along the way.
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.
Lately I’ve realized that my prayers are very inwardly focused. I’ve made great progress in exploring my heart, I am learning how to separate the wants from the needs of my soul, and I am better praying for my will to be aligned with what is actually “right.” All of that is good, but I still feel at a loss when it comes to praying for others.
My greatest hesitation is simply due to the fact that I can’t examine someone else’s soul in the same way that I can search my own. I find a lot of my prayers for other people follow a pattern of “please allow that they may have this blessing…unless that’s not really what they should have…in which case, I don’t know, just bless them with whatever it is they actually do need?…”
It’s not at all a question of whether I should be praying for others, but more of how I can do so in a way that lends real confidence to those prayers? I know the scriptures have some mighty examples of people praying for others, and I have decided to try and glean from their examples.
And with that in mind I suppose I might as well go straight to the source. I will conduct my study with a prayer directly from Jesus Christ’s own mouth, one entirely focused on those he cares for. I am talking, of course, about the Great Intercessory Prayer found in John 17.
Tomorrow we’ll get started with verses 1-3 of this chapter. In the meantime, is this a common dilemma for anyone else? If you’re willing to share, I would love to hear what you have done to bring more power to your prayers!