Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 32:31-32

31 And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. 

32 Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh in the sinew that shrank.

Jacob had wrestled with the Lord, and he had prevailed, but that didn’t mean he came off without injury. He moved on from the fight, but with a limp. At one point or another we all have to similarly wrestle with God in our path of spiritual growth. It might be because our sense of reality is challenged by the truth, or that God is removing barnacles from our heart that don’t want to let go. And when those wrestles happen, we will certainly find ourselves feeling worn and raw from the struggle.

To be sure, the outcome of these spiritual strivings is unquestionably good. We might have gained a truer view of the world, or a nobler perspective of our own self, or had our wounds dressed and healed. But alongside of those pleasant effects, we will also be exhausted. We will walk away joyfully, even if with a slight limp.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 22:1-2

1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

The most famous of Abraham’s stories is this, the sacrifice of his son, Isaac. This can be a difficult story to grapple with. Yes, God doesn’t actually have Abraham go through with it, but even the suggestion to kill one’s own child seems torturous. God even stresses “thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest,” as if to make this even harder on Abraham.

Killing is wrong, after all, especially killing one’s own flesh and blood. Destroying a child goes against every natural and paternal bond. When I hear this story it agitates me deeply, and I think the reason why is due to a key different between me and Abraham.

I just wouldn’t do it.

If I’m being totally frank and honest, I don’t love God more than my children. I don’t trust Him implicitly. I don’t assume that what He says will work itself out for good even if I don’t see how. My discomfort in this story is based around the incongruity of “I want to follow God, but I wouldn’t follow Him in this.” And that challenges and vexes me. He is a God that I am not ready to fully follow.

And honestly just acknowledging that helps me to surrender it. I’m not at that same level of trust and devotion, so I don’t get how to properly process this. I don’t have the answers, but I think for today I don’t need to. I’m still a work in progress. One day I hope to understand all, but I won’t get there by constantly agitating over things that are beyond me for now.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 3:17-19

17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Here Adam is told of a cursed earth, of hard labor and sweat before having any bread, of a war against the land just to live, and this description fits my native land perfectly. I live in central Utah, the middle of a desert, where it is possible to grow fruits and vegetables and trees…but it is not easy. Today we cheat and import richer dirt and foreign plants to help us out, but my progenitors extracted their lives from the land inch-by-inch.

And even in the more flourishing parts of the world there is still a strong sense of strife in nature. Consider the monarch butterfly, which has a symbiotic relationship with the milkweed plant. The monarch butterfly, when still a caterpillar, feeds exclusively on the plant’s leaves, and after transforming into a butterfly pollenates its flowers. Neither can live without the other.

But also each kills the other by the thousands! The caterpillars have a ravenous appetite, and consume and destroy vast numbers of the milkweed plants as they grow. They would overrun the species entirely if it weren’t for the fact that the plants lethally defend themselves. They secrete a sap that drowns massive numbers of the caterpillars when they are still young, cutting their numbers to a mere fraction! These two parts of nature may rely on one another to live, but there is still a great, mortal strife between them, and this is a common theme in nature: life, but only through a heavy, struggling burden.

In sorrow shalt thou eat. Thorns and thistles. We raise out of the dust, we struggle until we can struggle no longer, then we collapse back into the dust. It is a bleak life, to be sure, but it is still a life.

Making Time for God- Summary

Many of us see the tragedies in the world, feel very discontented by them, and idly hoped that “someone would do something.” I certainly have had those moment myself, times where I vaguely wished for God’s help in the world, but at the same time was not actively making Him a part of my life.

Even then, I knew in my heart that God’s help is enacted through the people that strive to walk with Him. Therefore by not making Him a part of my life, I was actively disqualifying myself from being one of the instruments that I knew the world needed.

So maybe I don’t know how to cure all of the world’s problems. Maybe some of them I can’t do anything about. But I do know that there is some impact for good that I can do, and the only way to do it is if I am actively making time for God. This study helped me to explore why this is easier said than done, though, and what strategies we can employ to counter those obstacles.

Making Time for God is Just Hard

The most frustrating thing about not putting God first is that we feel like it should be an easy thing for us to do. We think that giving Him daily devotion and training our thoughts to be pure should simply be a matter of dedicating a few minutes to him and exercising some mindfulness. When we fail to achieve this, we start to think that there’s something wrong with us.
The simple, and hopefully encouraging, truth is that making time for God is not easy, and there is nothing wrong with us when we struggle to do it. We all live in a fallen world, one that is intent on crowding out things of a spiritual nature. The distractions of life are expertly subtle, cloaked so innocently that we don’t give them a second thought, and then they silently leech our time and energy from God.
Any opening in our lives is a vacuum that will be filled. In my own life I’ve noticed how I always seem to be subscribed to just enough YouTube channels to fill up all my available time. If ever I try to cut back, something instantly springs up to take its place. Something little, something innocuous, but something that isn’t God.
1 Corinthians 2:14- But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

We Are In Our Own Way

The problem with that “natural man” is that, well, it is natural. It is inside all of us without exception. There is a craving for the worldly distractions that each one of us is born with. It might manifest with different tastes, but each of those tastes can be easily indulged on this earth. Do you prefer lust? Do you desire recognition? Do you want a thrill? Gossip? Idle entertainment? Meaningless achievements? A never-ending chase for something new? It’s all here, take your fill, the supply will never run out!
In the end our problem doesn’t begin with the pornography or television shows or workaholic mentality. It’s that we don’t know how to just say “No!” to these things. We do not know how to master our selves, to meet our needs in healthy ways, to steer ourselves to something better.
We can’t make time for God because we can’t keep our own promises to ourselves. We can’t escape our sins and vanities because we don’t have the nerve to live without them.
1 Corinthians 3:3- For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
Mosiah 3:19- For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.

Putting God First Requires an Entirely New Us

And now we get to the bottom of it. This is why putting God first is so hard: because it requires a totally new version of ourselves, one where our spiritual self has defeat the carnal. But how can our spiritual self be powerful enough to defeat the carnal, except for by us having already putting God first in our lives?
It is a conundrum that is beyond us, a paradox that would halt us all, were a Savior not to intervene. We cannot lift ourselves by our own bootstraps…but he can lift us. He can pull us out of the water, because he alone can stand unsinking upon it.
Making time for God and becoming someone new are able to happen in one and the same moment with Christ’s help. Yes, at the start we lack the necessary self-mastery, but he will give us of his own. He asks us to choose one way that we can make God more a part of our lives, and if we sincerely try, then he will make up the difference and we can hold that change. And then another after that and another. The further we go, the less of a void he has to fill within us, the more we have been remade as him.
Making time for God isn’t just the first step along the way towards perfection, it is the entire journey.
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.

Service to Others- Question

Sometimes I will choose a topic of study just because I’m curious about the principle. Other times I will choose one because it is something I know I am weak at. This is a case of the latter.

Serving at home is actually pretty easy for me, probably because it is primarily self-serving. I like having the house clean, I have fun when playing games with my son, I get a lot of self-gratification by being a good provider to my wife. But when it comes to reaching outside of our house? Well, I am an introvert, so I generally just don’t.

Now that is not meant as an excuse. It’s simply a recognition of a real hurdle that I need to deal with. My hope is that in this study and practice I will find the power to do just that. This series is going to be a lot more personal than previous ones. We’ll still base each day around a scripture, but then I want to be accountable with you for how I am trying to live out the messages we find in them.

Now I know I’m not the only person to ever feel this way, and if any of you have anything to offer I would love to hear about it! Any scriptures that helped you to see others the way that God does? Any words of wisdom for how to step out of your comfort zone? I’m all ears.

Our Dual Nature- Summary

The notion of a dual nature has long existed in many different cultures and religious beliefs. One side is generally considered to be good, while the other is not. The way that “bad half” is viewed varies greatly, though. Is it something to be ashamed of and to wish we could be rid of? Is it something to give in to by letting go of all our inhibitions? Is there some sort of balance that has to be maintained between the two, neither allowing ourselves to become “too” good or “too” bad?
Alongside of these questions is the one of basic human nature. Evidently we have a good and a bad part, but which represents the real us. Are humans fundamentally good or evil?
I hope this study has been helpful to any seeking answers to these questions. I have been touched in this research to find that God’s opinion of our good-but-flawed selves is one of care, patience, and understanding. He wants us to embrace our best selves, but He also knows it is beyond us to do on our own.

Imperfection is Necessary for the Pursuit of Perfection

The existence of both good and evil is essential, so that we may define ourselves in relation to those two. Each of them presents certain pros and cons. On the one hand we have to exercise patience but will receive eternal joy, on the other we receive instantaneous gratification but will suffer for it afterwards.
Though to the rational mind the correct decision may seem obvious, our mortal shell’s are deeply swayed by the promises of carnal pleasure. This sets the stage for inherent conflict. There is no way to progress down a path of good without being beset by attacks from our own body. There is no way to progress down a path of evil without being panged by the pleadings of our own conscience. We are locked in the most difficult war possible: the war with ourselves. To reach either potential destiny requires overcoming one side of our nature or the other.
2 Nephi 2:11- For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.
Moses 6:55- They taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good

The Struggle Protects Our Freedom

This natural opposition that exists down each path ensures that each step is made consciously and intentionally. Not a one of us will accidentally fall into our own salvation, not a one of us will be forced into damnation against our will. When we stand at judgment we will be able to appreciate that what we have become was our own decision.
To remove the struggle would be to remove our agency. It would mean our destiny would be the result of either random chance or another’s will being imposed upon us. God’s desire is not for His children to be good, it is for them to choose to be good, for them to want to be good, for them to prioritize being good over all other ways.
Moses 6:66- And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves

Free Will Comes at a Cost

Necessarily our freedom comes with terrible pain. Not a one of us fights against our evil nature except through great effort, and also moments of defeat. By our struggle we are all made intimately familiar with failure, shame, unworthiness, and isolation. The weight on us is heavy, indeed, but we are not the ones taxed most heavily by it.
If we were left to our own devices, we would indeed gain the knowledge we required, we would learn the value of virtue and the foolishness of sin, and we would ultimately decide that happiness was the path we wished to pursue…only to now find that that way was closed to us forever. Having paid the price to understand, that understanding would be futile if not for an atoning sacrifice to make up for the mistakes we made during our learning experience.
Though at times our lot is hard, God has given the greater sacrifice by far: the life of His perfect Son. The atonement of Jesus Christ not only makes succeeding in this earthly trial possible, it even allows us to hold a miraculous peace and joy while in the midst of it.
Psalm 23:4-6- Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.