Nephi’s Formula for Spiritual Success

Courtesy Gospel Media Library © By Intellectual Reserve, Inc.There was a critical event in the Book of Mormon that doesn’t get headlined very often. It was when Nephi was dealing with the bitterness, doubts, and scorn of his older brothers, Laman and Lemuel.

Instead of allowing his brothers to dissuade and discourage him, he took his questions to the Lord independently. And he got a crystal clear answer. It’s one of my favorite verses in the whole book. Here it is:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers. (1 Nephi 2:16.)

Hinge Points

We all have hinge points. Sometimes those points open doors, other times they close them. To me, this was Nephi’s hinge point. Maybe it was hinge point of the whole Book of Mormon epic. I mean, if Nephi had followed his brothers’ examples and become a Mr. Grumble Grump, would we even have a Book of Mormon?

Well, I suppose the Lord would call and install another, as his works cannot be frustrated (see Doctrine and Covenants 3:1,3), but Nephi would not have been in the picture. Well, maybe he would have been another bad example. The Book of Mormon has a herd of goats and Nephi could have been numbered among them.

Nephi’s Formula

Here’s my take on Nephi’s formula.

  1. He had a great desire to know and understand the mysteries and will of God.
  2. He prayed to the Lord, at the right time, for the right reasons. It seems he didn’t just say his prayers, but cried out to God in some pain and great earnestness.
  3. The Lord visited him and softened his heart so that he believed all the words of his father.

This formula works for me and you if we have the faith to apply it. That’s my experience. We don’t have to wait for someone else’s explanation. We can get an answer directly from the Lord. It takes time, patience, and repentance.

“I Will Go and Do . . .”

It was after his prayer that Nephi returned to his father’s tent and uttered these now famous words:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. (1 Nephi 3:7).

Nephi must have had a remarkable experience to declare his faith and commitment like this. From what we can gather from the pages of 1 and 2 Nephi, that experience never left him.

Put Your Trust in Him

I have had a both good life and a difficult one. I have had lots of personal troubles—I still have plenty of them—but I’ve also had my own spiritual experiences, my own quiet triumphs. I make mistakes every day that I regret, but with all my heart, I believe these words from Alma the Younger:

I would that ye should remember, that as much as ye shall put your trust in God even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day. (Alma 38:5.)

The Lord has led me out of my trials because when I take them to Him, He can help me—and He can help you. He can help everyone, no matter where they are on the trail. It takes patience and a humble heart, but God always delivers those who don’t give up on their faith in Him.

But if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage. (Mosiah 7:33.)

Wow! Now that’s a promise. I like to think he will deliver us for any and all kinds of bondage: pride, deception, bad habits, bad attitudes, intellectualism, judgment, perfectionism, lust, addictions, sins new and old—He will deliver us from any and all of them, if we can manage to trust Him and act on that trust.

Facing Uncertainty with Faith

Man facing a wall of waterLast year, I wrote a blog post called “Diving through the Waves of Uncertainty.” It’s a personal story of when I was 17. I was faced with a barrage of persecution, contradiction, and what I now call “scornography.” Fortunately, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I was able to find my way. I’m sharing this link here because I feel prompted to share it. It might help someone who’s passing through the same fire.

Scornography

I see scornography—media that mocks, belittles, blames, slams, and tears down—the same way I see pornography. If you spend time with it, it’s venom will cross the blood-brain barrier and spread like black ink across your mind. It will bind you and block your ability to see and understand God’s hand in your life. There’s not much difference between the two when you consider the damage they cause.

A Mountain to Climb

We all have the same mountain to climb. We’ll climb different faces, hike trails of our choosing, meander from camp to camp at the base. That doesn’t matter much. What matters is that God our Father stands at the peak, offering His help. If we can manage to lift our eyes from the trail we’re on at the moment, we might just see Him there. He is always willing to help when we ask for it with all our hearts. This I know for certain.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11–13.)

In spite of grinding weakness, I keep looking for the top of the mountain. In tatters, bloodied knees, and a broken spirit, I intend to keep climbing. I don’t know if I’ll reach it in one piece or not, but for now, I’m taking one step, one confession, one slice of humble, and one prayer at a time.

Valentines Day, 1969: Will Your Kindness Come Back to You?

Circa 1960 Valentine
Valentine Card, circa 1960

The day before Valentines Day in 1969, I went to our local Albertsons and got a box of Valentines cards. Our nanny Agnes took me. We had a nanny and housekeeper because my mother, who had multiple sclerosis, could not walk or cook or drive.

When we got back, I set up the card table in our family room and filled out a card for everyone in my class. I was 11 years old. (By the way, I still have that card table. I inherited it after my parents died. It’s old and worn out, but I can’t seem to let it go.)

The next morning at school, however, I noticed that no one in my fifth grade class was giving out Valentine cards. My school bag was secretly full of them, but they never would see the light of day.

Somehow, I had missed the memo on Valentines Day.

When the chance presented itself, I slipped into the boys bathroom across the hall and threw all my cards in the garbage can. That day, I believe, marked the official end of my childhood.

In retrospect, this experience is funny and a little sad, but at the same time, it was traumatic. That’s why I remember the details so clearly.

It’s been on my mind for several years, and as I’ve thought about it, I’ve wondered about the love and kindness that we all give out that seems to be discarded or falls to the ground unnoticed.

I am sure you can instantly think of experiences in your life when you have shown the tender part of yourself, only to find your kindness unrequited, or worse, rejected and then strewn across your memory like shrapnel from a bomb. It is one of the unavoidable disasters of human life. Everyone seems to go through it, and most of us get over it to a degree. Some of us hold onto those sad feelings and they haunt us throughout our lives.

But we have promises from our Heavenly Father. Here is one that is very powerful:

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. (Galatians 6:7.)

Doesn’t that mean that if you sow seeds of kindness and love that you will reap kindness and love again? But notice the analogy of planting and reaping. The harvest takes time. It doesn’t happen immediately. Seeds planted in the spring pass through two or three seasons before they are harvested. And for every seed you plant, you get 50 to 100 seeds back. That is the law of the harvest.

No wonder the Lord says:

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12.)

If we will always reap what we sow, we would be wise to do to others what we would like done to us or for us.

Earlier in that same sermon, Jesus said something similar:

With what measure ye mete [give out], it shall be measured to you again. (Matthew 7:2.)

One of my favorite promises of returned blessings is from the apostle Paul:

..Whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord. . . . (Ephesians 6:8.)

The Lord’s promises are sure. Whatever good you do, whatever love you show, will come back to you, though the harvest will likely take many seasons to deliver its bounty.

All really good things take time. Fruit takes four or five months before it is ready to harvest. Babies still need nine months to be born. Love may sprout in a few days, but may take many years to reap. Just wait in faith. God will not fail you. The end will be worth the waiting.

Those little Valentine cards will come back to me, though probably not in the same shape or form. I’ll take them in the form of hugs and kisses from my loved ones. That will be payment enough for whatever sorrow lingers from February 14, 1969.

[First posted on November 7, 2009.]

Who’s Your Constant Companion?

18d36-birds-flying-sunshine-933159-mobile

We often refer to the Holy Ghost as our  “constant companion” (see Doctrine and Covenants 121:46). But you might also have an unwitting constant companion: Your smartphone.

These two companions have some interesting similarities:

  • They may be constantly with you.
  • You consult them often.
  • You look to them for guidance and direction.
  • They provide answers to pressing questions.
  • You may pay more attention to them than the people around you.

After the priesthood ordinance of confirmation is performed, through devotion, obedience, and spiritual preparation, we can have the Holy Ghost near us day and night. If we pay our monthly bill, we can keep you cell service on.

We can listen for the Spirit’s still small voice by quieting our minds and being attentive to His promptings. Or we may be watching or listening to notifications on our phones, and checking for new posts or email, perhaps constantly

We can lean on the Holy Ghost for guidance and direction during times of spiritual trial, or rather we may be using Google Maps for driving directions when we’re lost, or looking to the Pinterest app for how-to solutions.

After prayer, we may listen for answers to come by the Spirit, or we might take our questions to friends on Facebook or post queries on Quora.

A smartphone might be so distracting that we pay closer attention to it that the people around us. Or we might regard the guidance of the Holy Ghost higher than the opinions of those around us.

One might be a constant companion while the other is only a companion. One is going to win out. But at times, the chatter of our phones and social media can drown out the quiet comfort and peace we seek from a higher source.

I’m not saying we don’t need our phones. I’m saying they may be distracting us from something better.

One Pushup, One Sit-up, and One Jumping Jack

https://www.lds.org/media-library/images/mormonad-reach-higher-1118460?lang=eng

I heard a story from colleague at work a few weeks ago about a 80-year-old man who was in great physical condition. Do those two go together?

When asked about his secret, he answered that when he was a young man, he set a goal to do only one pushup, sit-up, and jumping jack every day of his life.

Only one? Yes, one. Couldn’t he do more? Of course he could. But that wasn’t his goal. He was going for, shall we say, a lifetime of continuity. And a streak of success.

“. . . By small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.” (Alma 37:6.)

His goal was one. He knew he could achieve it under almost any circumstance. What was to keep him from exceeding his goal after he reached it? Nothing.

Let’s estimate he was 20 years old when he first set his goal. By the time he turned 80, he would have done 21,900 pushups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks, at a minimum. I am sure he did far more.

Wow. Here’s to small and simple things!  🎉

The Six Destructive Ds

https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2009/04/faith-in-the-lord-jesus-christ?lang=eng

Over the last few days, I’ve listened to Elder Kevin Pearson’s conference talk on faith in the Lord Christ (given in April 2009) several times. I was particularly fascinated by his “Six Destructive Ds.” I share them here (emphasis mine).

First is doubt. Doubt is not a principle of the gospel.It does not come from the Light of Christ or the influence of the Holy Ghost. Doubt is a negative emotion related to fear. It comes from a lack of confidence in one’s self or abilities. It is inconsistent with our divine identity as children of God.

Doubt leads to discouragement. Discouragement comes from missed expectations. Chronic discouragement leads to lower expectations, decreased effort, weakened desire, and greater difficulty feeling and following the Spirit (see Preach My Gospel [2004], 10). Discouragement and despair are the very antithesis of faith.

Discouragement leads to distraction, a lack of focus. Distraction eliminates the very focus the eye of faith requires. Discouragement and distraction are two of Satan’s most effective tools, but they are also bad habits.

Distraction leads to a lack of diligence,a reduced commitment to remain true and faithful and to carry on through despite hardship and disappointment. Disappointment is an inevitable part of life, but it need not lead to doubt, discouragement, distraction, or lack of diligence.

If not reversed, this path ultimately leads to disobedience, which undermines the very basis of faith. So often the result is disbelief, the conscious or unconscious refusal to believe.

The scriptures describe disbelief as the state of having chosen to harden one’s heart. It is to be past feeling.

These Six Destructive Ds—doubt, discouragement, distraction, lack of diligence, disobedience, and disbelief—all erode and destroy our faith. We can choose to avoid and overcome them.

I loved his statement, “Doubt is not a principle of the gospel.” If it is not a principle of the gospel, where does it come from? Four times in scripture we are commanded specifically to “doubt not” (Matthew 21:21; Mormon 9:27; Doctrine and Covenants 6:36; 8:8.) Because of these verses, I believe that not doubting is actually a principle of the gospel.

Mormon Pioneers: “A Shoe Came Flying at Me”

https://www.lds.org/media-library/images/wagon-wheel-760412?lang=eng

I found this little pioneer story in an article by Stanley B. Kimball in the Nauvoo Journal (now Mormon Historical Studies).

In 1866, near the Platte River, a pioneer named Robert L. Overseen lost one of his shoes. He was not allowed to ride in a wagon at the time, so he was in a pretty tough spot.

“The foremost quality of our pioneers was faith. With faith in God, they did what every pioneer does—they stepped forward into the unknown.”—Elder Dallin H. Oaks

He offered a prayer from the heart, the only kind of prayer a pioneer in need could offer. This is what happened: “As soon as I had uttered the prayer, a shoe came flying at me. Someone had thrown it out of a passing wagon.”

He said the shoe was a little on the small side but he could still use it. What a blessing. Imagine how grateful he must have been. The greater the need, often the greater and more genuine your faith.

P.S. Drat. I couldn’t find Robert on the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel site.

What Grows out of Neglect?

https://www.lds.org/media-library/images/red-tulips-760411?lang=eng

I was out for a walk early this morning and noticed a neglected patch of lawn surrounding a home tucked into a cul de sac. It was crew-cut short, dry and brown. Many weeds were thriving in this suburban wasteland.

Weeds are opportunistic. They are non-edible. Some are deceptively attractive. Others will sting you if you get too close. Such plants are the fruits of neglect.

And what of the neglected child? An ignored friend? A spouse held in silent contempt? An idle testimony? Where there’s neglect, good things do not grow, and what good that remains begins to wither.

But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out. (Alma 32:38.)

My mother had multiple sclerosis. She was a saintly woman and a loving mother, but physically unavailable. I don’t, for example, remember her ever cooking a meal for us.

In many ways I raised myself. I didn’t do a very good job. There were some emotions such as confidence and belonging that didn’t take full root until I got into a more stable family situation as an adult.

Weeds of doubt grow where no better plants are planted, watered, and nurtured. Friends wander when undernourished. Spouses have dibs on the best of your attention, and if they don’t get it, contention will grow. Children wither without the sunlight of their parents’ love and care.

If you have weeds in your garden, don’t neglect them. Find them, pull them up by the roots, and heave them onto the compost pile. Then let better things grow in their place.

But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life. (Alma 32:41.)

Cease from Anger (Part 2)

https://www.lds.org/media-library/images/woman-taken-in-adultery-948964?lang=eng
Angry men attempting to stone a woman taken in adultery (John 8:1–11.)

Not long ago, some odd tidings came my way at work. I was so upset, I jumped out of my chair and took a brisk walk in no particular direction. Fortunately, a coworker’s sense of humor snapped me out of it and helped me set my feelings aside. Then a few days later, I learned from another coworker that my assumption—an assumption that led to consumption by anger—was completely off. What I thought happened, didn’t really happen.

I find that when I get angry, it’s often tied to missing or incomplete information. (This is a continuation of a recent post on anger, by the way.)

So what happened to me that day at work? In a gap of misunderstanding, I allowed the universal sin—pride—to knock me off balance and that led to anger—a pretty wasteful emotion when it’s based on an entirely incorrect idea.

Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom. (Proverbs 13:10.)

I can’t dodge anger. I can’t get rid of it. It’s going to tag along with me for the rest of mortality. Asking for total relief from anger is like asking for complete release from temptation. Not going to happen in this life. It’s part of a package deal.

Understanding this deal, consider the source of the spirit of contention. It doesn’t come from God.

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. (3 Nephi 11:29; emphasis added.)

We didn’t invite Satan and his recruits to join our party, but God did. Yes, Lucifer is here by permission. He is the unwitting servant of God. By design, it’s up to us to uninvite the devil from our party. It’s are choice. And it takes a bit of work.

We don’t have to lie down and roll over. We can resist Satan and the spirits that follow him. In fact, we have a promise in this regard.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7; emphasis added.)

The problem is, we don’t resist. A taste of anger is a temptation, and I believe God wants us to resist it and to control it. But too often, we enjoy the anger and enjoy expressing it. We would deny it, but that hot shot of adrenaline can be quite enjoyable. We like to be right or a suffering victim, which is kindling for the fire. But we have this command from holy scripture, which I repeat here.

Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil (Psalms 37:8; emphasis added).

Let me wrap this up. It takes years of practice, but it’s worth the fight. Anger is one of those emotions that can get out of control pretty quickly. We can’t avoid it. It’s part of us that needs to be confronted and controlled. It’s fueled by pride and deception, often in the form of misinformation. We can resist it, like any other temptation. In fact, we are charged by holy writ to do just that.

 

All Your Heart, Might, Mind, and Strength

https://www.lds.org/media-library/images/meme-uchtdorf-disciple-1240511?lang=eng

I’ve been pondering the meaning of serving God with all your heart, might, mind and strength, as commanded in scriptures.

. . . O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day. (Doctrine and Covenants 4:2; see also Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22;37; Mark 12:30; Doctrine and Covenants 59:5.)

Then I found these definitions from the 2015 Mutual Theme cards. (Emphasis added.) To start, here is a take on how to serve God with all your heart:

The heart sustains life. “Heart” often means the center or core of something and the place where desires and emotions reside. To serve God with all our heart is to give Him all of our desires, will, and love. He asks us to love Him by keeping His commandments and loving others.

Then, with all your might:

Serving with our might can mean simply doing what we are able to do, both spiritually and temporally, and is outward focused. Whatever our individual talents (from lifting a heavy couch to staying positive in difficult situations), we can use them to strengthen others.

With all your mind:

The power to think is a gift from God. . . . The way we think greatly affects attitudes and behavior, as well as our standing after this life” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Thoughts,” scriptures.lds.org). Our minds help us learn and change for the better—if we seek after good things.

And with all your strength:

The energy with which we serve God is part of giving Him all our strength. Strength is also spiritual power, inner commitment, resilience, and diligence in doing good. We can show our strength as we live the principles the Savior Himself lived. Then we can receive divine spiritual power.

To serve and worship God in this way is a complete offering. No question stands between you and God. The heart and mind are not divided. There is no holding back or turning back. Repentance is genuine and far reaching. Your heart is broken, your spirit, contrite. Your commitment is sure. There is no question as to your devotion or where your affections lie. This is what God asks of us—to purchase our hearts and minds without a discount. No hidden fees. No refunds. No revolving credit.