The Captive Heart- 1 Samuel 15:24, Exodus 32:21-23

And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.

And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?
And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

COMMENTARY

I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, because I feared the people.
What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them? And Aaron said, thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
Saul and Aaron were spiritual giants of their times. A king-prophet and a high priest intended for greatness. However each of them showed moments of weakness, times where they disrupted their streak of faithfulness by going contrary to their own conscience. In both cases, this sudden shift of spiritual trajectory was due to their fear of the people.
To fear the people is understandable. Being “swayed by the masses” or giving in “to peer pressure” are common foibles of humanity. When we are outnumbered we have a sense of possessing less mortal power. Our survival instincts recognize that the masses have the ability to shun us, brand us, or even kill us. When we succumb to that panic, we will do whatever we can to save ourselves. So yes, it is understandable, but losing oneself out of such fear it still as heart-rending as losing oneself for any other reason.
Indeed the guilt of wrongdoing is now coupled with the shame of weakness. It is a hard thing when each of us discovers that in spite of knowing what we ought to do, we do not have the strength to see it through.

What Chance Do I Have?- Summary

There was a part of me that wondered if I ought to conduct this study at all. I wish to be cautious about ever introducing a new doubt to a mind that has never considered it before. What if there is a reader who never questioned their ability to hold firm, but now that I have given them the idea they can’t get rid of it?

But then I ask myself, who is there among us that has never questioned our ability to hold firm? Perhaps the way that self-doubt has chosen to phrase itself in my heart is different from how it has for you. I asked myself “if other spiritual giants could fall, what chance do I have?” but you might have asked yourself the same question in a different way.

Either way, though, the matter of self-doubt is universal, and so I felt I did not need to be shy of addressing it. The message of the gospel is one of hope and triumph, because it is able to directly answer these questions of despair and defeat. I will share what ways I have found that it does so in this study.

Our Fears Come From Our Weakness

Back when I was dating the woman who would become my wife, we had a conversation about her nephews and nieces. They were young children then, and she spoke of how much she loved them, and how she was delighted by the boundless confidence that they showed. They had a certainty that they were important and powerful. She observed that such feelings tend to fade in children, though, and she wondered why, and she wished it could be prevented.
I, too, wish that the innocence of children could forever remain unshattered…but I think that that is impossible. Each one of us, even the most innocent and brilliant of children, is flawed in our own way. And in a fallen world every flaw is eventually exploited in a way that crushes our hearts. We will fail, and we will know that that failure came about because of our weakness.
Where it was once effortless to believe in ourselves, our default state becomes far more cynical after being beaten down by the harsh realities of life enough times. Pessimism starts to sound synonymous with wisdom, our bright future is splashed with bleak colors, and it becomes supremely difficult to believe in ourselves for anything lasting and good.
Judges 16:17- He told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.
Moses 1:10- And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.

Our Weakness Make Us Humble

Despair is a natural result of defeat, but it is not the only possible result. There is, also, the possibility for humility. To be humble is not to put oneself down, but rather to see oneself as one really is. And what one really is is flawed…but still good.
Where youthful innocence might be totally aware of one’s goodness, but oblivious to the fact of also being flawed, despair goes to the other extreme of totally seeing one’s flaws and becoming oblivious to the fact that one is also still good. Humility strikes the correct balance between the two, still able to appreciate the inherent worth in every soul, but acknowledging that that worth is currently limited from its full expression.
The appreciation of one’s goodness gives us hope, while the appreciation of one’s limits makes us open to receiving help. Both of these elements are necessary for one to be teachable. If one feels they are already perfect they will not be open to receiving the Lord’s help, and if they have no hope they will not either.
Moroni 10:22- And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.
James 4:6- But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

Our Humility Leads Us to the True Strength

And finally, if one is humble, then they can be receptive to God’s grace lifting them back to where they were before. Even lifting them beyond it.
To recognize the inherent flaws of mortality and to doubt the strength of men, even to doubt the strength of oneself, is not amiss. But that should never make one doubt the strength of God coupled with a willing soul. The only time that man has ever failed was when he tried to stand alone. He fails if he tries to stand alone from the beginning, he fails if he tries to stand alone after having walked with God for a time. One must ever remember that they are good and capable of doing good, but also that they will forever need help along the way.
Men and women can take sincere pride in knowing that they have the capacity to become a worthy vessel. They can show joy at being one that is pure and refined. But they should remain humbled by the knowledge that they are still only the vessel. They might be utilized as a conduit for good, but they are not the good that pours forth. So long as they keep that distinction in their mind, they can walk with God and never fall.
Mark 10:18- And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
Alma 26:12- Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.

Individual Trials- Summary

I first thought of this series during my study on Free Will vs God’s Control. At the time I wanted to explore trials as a simple curiosity, not because of an abundance of trials in my life. Then, while in the process of actually doing this study many trials began to stack up on me. They came on the global level with COVID-19, the local level with a flurry of earthquakes, and on the personal level with guilt and doubt.

Conducting a gospel study is useful for educating oneself and better understanding the workings of God. But it is also useful in how it allows God to seed preparation for what He knows will soon befall you. If we let Him, He will steer our focus not only to what we need to know for today, but also what we will need to know for tomorrow.

The principles that shone most brightly through this study are also the principles I have needed to implement in the trials that came my way. Eventually my hardships will pass me by, no matter what I choose to do in the midst of them. The only question is whether I will emerge better or worse for the experience.

Trials Can Come in Any Form

A trial can be thought of as any an event or situation that shows us who we are and where we stand. It is a test of some specific aspect of our character. We have trials of our faith, of our resolve, of our loyalty, and of every other virtue we hope to obtain in this life.
Anything that is put upon us to strain these virtues is therefore a trial. We feel a tension, one that seeks either to pull us down or lift us up, and the question is whether we break, move, or remain stationary. As the amount of tension is increased, the option to remain stationary is lost. At certain forces we must either break or move.
The trial might come in a single moment of intensity, it might endure as a constant weight for a very, very long time. It might weigh us down with pain, it might tug upwards with blessings. It might pull at us in both directions at the same time with a difficult choice. It might be external, or it might be pushing and prodding at us from within.
What a trial is not, though, is an equal and opposite reaction caused by us bashing ourselves into a wall. That is a consequence.
Abraham 3:24-25- And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

1 Corinthians 3:13- Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

Trials LEAD US TO BECOME OUR TRUE SELVES

A trial is not some final exam to prove what strength we have already obtained. A trial is the process by which that strength is discovered. It is not the moment when a blacksmith strikes his finished weapon to verify its resilience, it is earlier when the blacksmith melts the ore in its crucible.
Let me back up with that analogy. For a long time the ancient world knew that there were processes by which iron could be refined into something stronger. Specifically they were looking into ways to have it bind with carbon, which if it done perfectly would result in an entirely new type of metal, one many times stronger than the original iron. But how to perform that binding was a mystery that took centuries to solve. Eventually Indian metalworkers learned that the iron and carbon must be placed within crucibles, heated to astronomical temperatures, and then they would melt and bond together into that entirely new metal: steel.
The crucible is not just a test of force, and steel is not just stronger iron. The crucible is the process of transforming something old into something new, and steel is the result of permanent change. Our trials are the crucible by which we are broken down, until at last we are able to bond with God into an all-new alloy.
Peter 1:7- That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
Jeremiah 9:7- Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them; for how shall I do for the daughter of my people?

Defining Trials EXCEED US

It is true that we can increase our moral resolve by constantly exercising it, like the gradual buildup of a muscle. We can achieve a greater strength by our own efforts, and be able to endure things that we could not endure before. This is a good thing, but there are limits to how far it can take us. Eventually there are things that we simply cannot endure, and it isn’t a question of needing more “spiritual exercise” to get there. At some point spiritual exercise needs to be joined by spiritual transformation.
You might remove as many impurities as you can from iron, and improve its strength by so doing, but eventually it will reach the limit that is inherent in the material. Eventually iron can only get so far. As I mentioned before, iron becomes steel only by being bonded with something else. It isn’t enough to just be near to the something else either. You cannot merely stack the iron on the wood and have the same strength as if you burned both down and fused them as one.
Our greatest, defining trials do not ask us to prove our own strength, and they do not ask to us to stand against that which we cannot withstand. They ask us, rather, to melt…into God. We have to bow, or else we will be broken. But if we lean into the Almighty, then we are transformed. And after the transformation we will rise again, resurrected as something new.
Alma 26:12- Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.

2 Corinthians 5:17- Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

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?- Matthew 26:33-34, 16:18

Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.
Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

COMMENTARY

Jesus said unto him, This night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice
Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it
Previously I shared how Peter thought he was ready to die for Jesus, but when his moment to prove it came, he was found lacking. Clearly he had misjudged himself. Today I reflected back on that story, and I realized that there was another lesson to be found within it.
Yes, Peter misjudged himself in that moment, but Jesus saw him rightly. After his failure, Peter became understandably discouraged, and following Jesus’s burial he returned to his old lifestyle as a fisherman. Perhaps that was all he felt he was cut out for anymore. But if so, then once again he was misjudging himself. For even before Jesus had rightly predicted Peter’s failure, he had also rightly predicted his eventual triumph. In fact, it was Jesus who gave him the name Peter, which means “rock,” and testified that this disciple would become the foundation of strength for the gospel moving forward. And Jesus was right.
I suspect that many of us, like Peter, are both weaker and stronger than we think. Our Heavenly Father and our Elder Brother truly know us better than we know ourselves. Jesus revealed Peter’s true nature to him, and he is ready to also reveal yourself to you. You only have to be ready to receive it.

What Sort of Disciple Are You? -Question

Whichever belief system you subscribe to, are you a good one? Do you believe in it wholeheartedly? In my youthful years I was convinced that I was as devout a disciple as there could be! Later I came to appreciate how little I really knew in my heart. This moment of self-doubt led me to explore my faith, and I would say that as I result I am a stronger disciple now than when I was young…though also far more tempered in how I describe that spiritual strength.

Of course there are also those that think they are weak in their faith, but when tested are surprised at how well it holds. Also there are those that are a disciple in name only, openly admitting that they don’t really follow the teachings they have been given.

Honest self-appraisal is the first step towards changing oneself, and no matter how positive or negative the outcome of that appraisal, one is progressing just by having done it. So long as one remains deluded about the convictions of their own soul, there is nothing for them to do. With this study I’d like to consider how we can take an honest inventory of ourselves, and work on what we find.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you about the development of your own spiritual maturity. What dramatic shifts have you had in your perceptions of your faith-commitment? What events caused you to see yourself more clearly? How did that awareness enable to you to reach for something more?

Finding Our Purpose- Jeremiah 1:5, 1 Corinthians 1:27

Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

COMMENTARY

Before thou camest forth out of the womb I ordained thee a prophet
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world…and God hath chosen the weak things of the world
As we saw yesterday, Moses did not feel ready for the calling that God issued to him. Well what about the infant Jeremiah in the womb? At that moment was he ready to be the prophet that God was already ordaining him to be? Certainly not. And what about the child Samuel hearing God’s voice in the middle of the night? And all these weak and foolish things that are supposed to topple the wise and mighty?
The overwhelming message of the scriptures here is that one doesn’t have to feel ready for their calling to receive it. In fact the calling is probably something that they can’t do, because it is a calling to become something more. God wouldn’t have much purpose in giving you a calling that you were already doing, and He does not prompt us into the actions we are already performing. No, when God intervenes in our lives, it is to change course and help us become greater things than we would have ever steered ourselves to.
So stop worrying about whether you are strong enough, you aren’t. Only ask if He is. Do not wonder if you can perform this miracle, you can’t. Only ask if He can. Do not wait for belief in our own capabilities before you accept a calling. Only believe in His!

Service to Others- Personal Example #1

One week ago I had an experience which was the catalyst for this whole study session. I had been thinking for a while about a couple in our neighborhood, and how I ought to bring them some cookies and ask how they’re doing. I always found reasons to put it off until later, but finally last Monday I decided “no, today I’m doing it.”

So I made the treat, packed my son in his push-car, and walked over to their house. They weren’t home, which was a bit disappointing, but after having finally committed to doing something good I decided that this moment couldn’t end in failure. My son and I looked for someone else to deliver the cookies to.

Three homes later we finally found a person at home. We had a brief, but nice chat, and left the cookies with him. I have no idea if he felt touched by the gesture or not, but I felt content in my heart.

That contentment stood out to me a good deal. In fact I noticed that my resolve to bring a treat to the initial couple almost entirely deflated. I still feel just as strongly that I should, but I don’t feel very motivated for it. As I did some introspection, it seems that I have two motivations for doing service to others. One is because someone I see someone specific that I think needs a kind act, and the other is because I generally need to do service to feel complete.

And so with my little excursion last week I satiated the general need, but not the specific one. For whatever reason, it is that general need that comes on more strongly for me, and without it I have difficulty in acting. I guess I just happen to have a stronger love for all mankind in general than for any random stranger.

That’s not an ideal way to be, but having recognized this weakness I accept that it is real, and I resolve to improve on it. And to that end, I am committing to try and reach out to that married couple again tonight. Because even if I do not yet feel strongly motivated, I can do it anyhow and so exercise my weaker spiritual muscles. I’ll report tomorrow how things go.

Our Dual Nature- Ether 12:27, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

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.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

COMMENTARY

I give unto men weakness that they may be humble
One thing about the garden of Eden is that once there, Adam and Eve really didn’t need God in their lives. They needed Him to create them and to plant a garden that would cater to their every need, but after that they lacked for nothing and could have continued forever with no further involvement from Him again.
But that isn’t how humanity was designed to live. We come from God, and so we have a hole in us that only He can fill. Each one of us is born with flaws, things that undermine our attempt to be entirely self-sufficient. No matter how firmly we deny it, we have weakness that are just too big for us to handle on our own. We need help.

Then will I make weak things become strong unto them
For when I am weak, then am I strong
But if there were no weakness, there could not be any strength. There is no value in a victory that was gained without opposition. No muscle grows without resistance. The man who has been beset by lust, but with God’s help has mastered his passions is strong in his fidelity because it takes strength to maintain it. The woman who is weighed down by shame but has embraced God’s message of inherent worth is powerful in her self-love because she puts effort into sustaining it.