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?- 2 Kings 5:10-13

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.
Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.
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?

COMMENTARY

My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?
Yesterday we examined Peter, who felt he was ready to lay down his life for Jesus, but stumbled when the actual danger arose. Peter had something in common with Naaman: both believed that they were ready to undertake some “great thing,” and openly invited a test of their resolve. Where their paths diverge is that Peter was actually invited to risk his life, whereas Naaman was only asked to do something small and basic.
Peter fell short of the great sacrifice, but even Naaman almost failed to do the small and simple thing! The fact that he was almost tripped up by the little thing makes me suspect that he, like Peter, may not have been as ready for the greater sacrifice that he thought he was. I once had a missionary who firmly avowed that he would gladly die for Christ’s gospel. At the time I couldn’t help thinking “but you and I are struggling with even the basic missionary rules right now, so why would either of us be ready for a sacrifice like that?”
I love the scene from the Karate Kid, where Daniel expresses his frustration at his teacher. He came to him to learn martial arts, but instead he has been assigned many menial chores. He does not yet realize that it is in the small, repetitive tasks that the reflexes of a warrior are being developed within him.
It is easy to view scripture study, prayer, acts of service, and obedience to the commandments as meaningless chores, things which have no bearing on one’s ability to undertake great spiritual causes. But in truth these practices are absolutely essential and fundamental, the little things that make all the difference.

Divided from God- Summary

My previous study was about needing to make time for God. As I was writing it though, I wanted to address the times where I have wished that that process was simpler. Because at the outset, coming to God often does not appear to be very straightforward. It is understandable to get frustrated by this perceived divide.

One of my reasons for writing this blog is to not only explore spiritual epiphanies, but also the spiritual frustrations that precede them. I think we are mistakenly afraid of being blasphemous if we admit that following God was, at times, aggravating.

But saying that something is aggravating is not the same as saying that it isn’t worth it. All relationships come with friction and frustration, but in them we also derive the greatest joy. And that includes our relationship with God. Do I wish that things were easier…a part of me wants to say yes, but a part of me knows it just couldn’t work that way.

We Are Twice Divided From God

When we are in the womb we maintain a direct connection with our nurturing mother. No effort is required for us to maintain sustenance, we acquire it freely. After birth, the mother’s body continues to provide nutrition for us, but the direct tether to her is severed. We can still be nourished, but now, and forever after, we’re going to have to work for it.
I do not believe that there is any coincidence for how well this reflects the separation from God brought about by the fall, and the effort now required of us to now reconnect with Him. It is our common lot as humankind.
But that only accounts for one of our separations. The second is that which we bring upon our own selves. Guilt and shame that have nothing to do with what Adam or Eve did, but rather what sins we, ourselves, have chosen to commit.
Romans 6:23- For the wages of sin is death
Alma 42:9- Therefore, as the soul could never die, and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death.

There are Reasons and Wisdom Behind This Divide

Going back to the example of the newborn, the only way for an infant to remain tethered to its mother would be by stunting its growth forever. It could never grow to the full measure of a man or a woman while remaining so linked.
Character is defined by the things that we do when we do not feel another’s eyes peering over our shoulder. Character growth occurs when we do good things because of our own volition. In this way it is wise for God to allow enough separation for us to act and grow on our own.
Also, our separation from God ebbs and flows. Sometimes His presence is nearer and sometimes it is farther, depending on our own actions. This ingenious state of change provides an essential feedback loop for measuring our own behavior. When I sin, I feel more withdrawn from God, and that unpleasantness motivates me towards better choices. These, in turn, draw me nearer to Him.
2 Nephi 2:24- But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
Doctrine and Covenants 6:28- For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

The Divide Can Be Closed

If we were to directly see God in our daily lives, there would surely be far greater feelings of fulfillment in our hearts and far less evil performed in the world. But also we would be stunted children, just as Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden.
God planted the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden to allow for the reality of today. It was a gift. Now we truly and independently act. We make choices, feel God’s presence grow nearer or farther, and by that steer ourselves as we see fit. And if we choose to steer ourselves back to God, then regaining His presence will really mean something. It won’t just some default state that was premortally chosen for us. It will be the destiny that we have chosen for ourselves.
Mother birds have been known to push their young out of the nest. But they do not this so that the child will never return to the trees, rather so that when it does it will do so upon magnificent wings!
2 Timothy 4:7- I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.
Philippians 4:13- I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Faith vs Fear- Matthew 14:29-31

And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

COMMENTARY

But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid
O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Faith and Fear is a dichotomy. It is a choice between which side we put our trust in, the power of the world or the power of God. Whichever side we trust in the power of we also give power over us.
Peter was filled with faith and he walked upon the water. The only reason why he got into any trouble was that he acknowledged the storm. He had been defying the laws of physics, but in that moment he regarded them, feared them, and gave them power. In that moment the storm, not the miracle, defined his reality. And he sank.

And he said, Come.
Jesus knew that Peter could do the miracle. He knew that Peter had the faith, even if only for a moment. Though Peter may have slipped, the Lord did not cease to invite him to keep exercising faith. Though Peter would slip again in the future, still Jesus called on him to lead the others.
“And he said, Come,” is therefore not a one-time invitation. Perhaps we will succumb to fear at times in our own discipleship as well. It is alright, the invitation to rise again remains forever in full force.

Faith vs Fear- Psalm 56:4, Matthew 10:28, Doctrine and Covenants 101:36-37

In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.

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.

Wherefore, fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full.
Therefore, care not for the body, neither the life of the body; but care for the soul, and for the life of the soul.

COMMENTARY

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul
Therefore, care not for the body, neither the life of the body; but care for the soul, and for the life of the soul
As we have mentioned, part of replacing fear with faith is acknowledging that God possesses all power, and that He can save us from every threat imaginable…if it is His will. The other element of surrendering our fear, then, is to accept the times when it is not God’s will. We need to believe that even in those moments we are still preserved in what really matters.
Many the faithful disciple has prayed for relief from sickness, oppression, and even death, yet been told “no, this trial is one that you are supposed to pass through.” At first this might sound like being abandoned back to fear, but in reality it is being lifted to greater faith.

For in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full
If our hope is that depending on God will shield us from every pain, then our happiness is still tied to worldly security. We are still living in the “fear of the world.” And even if God did circumvent all worldly pain and give us all worldly pleasure, our joy would still be unfulfilled, because this world simply does not have what it takes to provide completeness. Fulfillment of the flesh is a game you just cannot win.
God wants something better for us. He does not want to merely mask our fears, He wants to help us overcome them. So sometimes He isn’t going to give us worldly comfort and He isn’t going to spare us worldly pain. What He is going to do, though, is help us through worldly pain with spiritual comfort. In this way He is bit-by-bit weaning us from the flesh and supplanting it with the soul. And in the needs of the soul He does provide all and we do find fullness of joy.

Trial Before Blessing, Pleasure Before Anguish- 1 Kings 19:11-12

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.

COMMENTARY

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
When one endeavors to try to become something better, they may be surprised that the Lord does not bless their efforts immediately. In fact, often it is Satan who comes to us first.
I have had my own journey through addiction recovery, at the beginning of which I was excited to finally meet the healthier, worthier me. I was shocked, then, when I instead met a very different version of myself: one that was extremely pessimistic and cruel. This version assured me that I would never get any better, that deep down I didn’t even want to get better, that soon I would fail, and that recovery would never work because I just happen to be fundamentally flawed to my core.
This voice was one that raged, too. One might say it came in like a great wind, or an earthquake, or maybe a fire…but the Lord was not in these furies at all. After that harsher version of me passed, another identity came. A still, small one that rang truer and far more hopeful. The one I had been waiting for.
I feel I have very good company in this pattern that I lived. Jonah tried to run before he eventually carried out his mission to Nineveh, Peter sunk into the water the first time he tried to walk on it, Zacharias doubted his son’s birth but later defended that boy, Moses doubted his abilities before leading Israel to freedom. It seems most all of us have the self of doubt before the self of faith.
The problem is when people meet that first doubting self and then assume that that is all there is. They may start to believe that some people have a good core, and others an evil, and there’s just nothing you can do about that. The truth is everyone has both identities, and the test is simply whether we will hold out long enough for the good to make itself known.

Trial Before Blessing, Pleasure Before Anguish- Exodus 32:1, Deuteronomy 8:2, Ecclesiastes 8:11

And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, 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.

And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.

Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.

COMMENTARY

When the people saw that Moses delayed…[they] said…Up, make us gods
The LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart
After the Israelites were led out of Egypt they struggled to maintain faith in God’s ability to protect and provide. At a time where patience was required, they instead sought the immediate gratification of a new god. Eventually they were given a test of forty years, and from the passage above we learn the purpose of it was prove whether they would remain faithful for a period so long.
Where many of us fall from our faith is during the waiting, because frankly most of us initially only do good for the hope of receiving a reward. If there is a delay on that reward, though, our true motivations eventually reveal themselves.

Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
Similarly, many of us initially avoid evil only for the fear of receiving a punishment. If there is a delay on that punishment, though, our true desires eventually reveal themselves as well.
We are wheat and tares, indistinguishable in our infancy and still deciding what we are ultimately going to be. We are trying to learn how to do good things simply because they are good, never mind if we receive a reward right away. And we are trying to learn how to avoid evil things simply because they are evil, never mind if we feel their consequences right away.
If every good and evil act showed their consequences immediately, then we would never define our core selves, we would become dumb creatures of habit. It is only in the waiting that the core self is revealed.

A word of caution: some have interpreted passages like these to suggest that some of us have an evil core self and others a good core self. I want to take a moment to refute that notion entirely. All of us are good at our core. Tomorrow I’ll explain why this misconception arises, and why it is a misconception.