Posts Tagged ‘Gospel Study’
How many hours a day do you spend studying the gospel? OK, how many minutes? Hmmm, let’s break that down. Would minutes per week work better for you? And no fair counting the time you spend sitting in church meetings or reading blogs that discuss the church. I mean time spent in the scriptures and asking the Lord to help you understand well enough to teach others in an intelligent way the doctrines you find there.
If you’re like me, your gospel study time is nowhere near what you would like or know it should be. When I was preparing for my mission I spent hours each day reading scriptures and various commentaries on the scriptures. I wanted to know what I would be teaching when I went out there to present the doctrines of the kingdom of God. I miss those days. I felt immersed in the spirit then and knew the Lord was pleased.
Fast forward thirty-six years. I’m an old man in my fifties. I’ve spent a lifetime of service in various callings, enjoying each one with the learning and growth that came with them. My calling right now is easy – stake auditor – and I have no serious demands on my time other than what is expected of any other computer guy who supports a small business with about 100 computers and a dozen servers. No big deal.
A Gospel Study Plan
There are two parts of gospel study that make it work for me. First is the discipline of a schedule. If I don’t have a set time each day where I know I have nothing else planned then the work of reading and writing is just not going to get done. Notice I said writing. For me, gospel study without taking notes, summarizing or writing out conclusions about how it can be applied or taught is really nothing more than reading.
Not that there’s anything wrong with reading. But at my age, I need to move beyond the basics of reading. Like most of you, I’ve read the scriptures dozens of times. I’m familiar enough with what’s in them that when someone quotes a scripture in a talk I can usually find it with the flips of a few pages or the scrolling of a few screens. Reading the scriptures and pondering them is certainly a good use of gospel study time.
I guess it’s the teacher in me that feels the need to prepare outlines, collect quotes, compare commentaries from different authors and gather everything I can about specific subjects. I’m not a scholar but from what I understand about the scholarly process, the idea is to become an expert on some aspect of the gospel and then to advance the body of knowledge with individual insights that add to the understanding of others.
Purpose of Gospel Study
But of course, that may be the wrong way to undertake a serious study of the gospel. Take a step back and ask yourself what is your purpose in reading and searching the scriptures. What do you hope to accomplish? What will be the end result of years of pondering and study? Do you want to come across as a “know-it-all” in the gospel doctrine class? I don’t. What I want from my time is pure and simple. I want to receive revelation.
The second required part of my personal gospel study plan is inspiration. If I don’t have some goal or vision or idea of what I want to learn or discover in exchange for the investment of my time, then I struggle with the natural man in me, the inner child that needs a reason why. Let’s face it – self-discipline is not fun without a reward. I have found over the years that I need to reward myself for the work of study.
My reward, and this is personal so it may not appeal to you, is to take what I have studied and present it to the Lord in prayer, asking for a confirming witness that my conclusions are correct. Because I have invested the time in study, it’s as if I give myself permission to talk to the Lord in a language that is beyond my own natural ability. It feels as if the heavens open. There is a real closeness to the Lord that is undeniable.
There is something about the language of scripture, particularly as found in the Doctrine and Covenants that brings the spirit of revelation into my heart and mind. It is especially powerful when read out loud. After completing a study session, I’ll retire to a private place where I can sit and read a section of the D&C out loud, as if I were acting as voice for an assembly found just on the other side of the veil. It is powerful.
I then kneel in sacred prayer. I find that if I have completed my preparations satisfactorily, I am enabled to exercise sufficient faith in prayer – and I pray out loud – to call down the powers of heaven upon me. The words just seem to flow. I know what to pray for and even how to phrase it. I am able to report to the Lord what I have studied, what I have learned and conclusions I have reached about truth and its relevance.
For me, the process works best when I am confirming what someone else has taught or claimed to be true. I confess I have received very little personal or “new” revelation through this process although there are times I can say with absolute certainty that the Lord has given me something sacred that is meant just for me. I then write it down. I do the same when I have a dream that I know has come from the Lord.
This is a sacred process. If you have not experienced it you may think it unusual or strange. I can tell you it is different from the way the world teaches we should study and gain knowledge. The difference is in the addition of the elements of prayer, revelation and a confirming witness of the Holy Ghost. I have been taught and have believed from my youth that a testimony is built with both study and sincere prayer.
I am impressed by those who know history or who know how to explain a doctrine well in an expository manner. But I am more impressed by those who know how to take that knowledge and nurture or build the testimony of someone else. Knowledge of the truth shouldn’t be like a club to be wielded in a challenging or threatening manner. What you gain from heaven should be used to uplift and strengthen.
If the Lord gives you light and truth through your efforts in study and prayer then it should be sweet to you and to others if you are directed to share it, especially in a teaching capacity. To edify means to bring a focused clarity to the mind and a confirming, sweet witness to the heart. If it does not edify when shared then it is not done in the Lord’s way. Even a call to repentance has a comforting spirit to it.
My Personal Motivation
There’s a reason the Lord commanded us to study and search the scriptures. The primary song “search, ponder and pray” teaches us that the responsibility to know the Lord and his ways rests squarely upon our own shoulders. Nephi’s lament that men will not search knowledge was meant for us in our day. We are the gentiles that need to come unto Christ through a deeper knowledge of the doctrines of the Book of Mormon.
The Lord isn’t trifling with you or me when he commands us to repent and to cast off the chains of the adversary that bind us. The Holy Ghost will inspire you with exactly what you need to do to remove the condemnation from your own life. I know that I must repent and am grateful for the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon that helps me through that process. I have a long way to go and hope the Lord gives me time.
I intend to get serious about my gospel study in a way that I have not done for a long time. I intend to recapture the spirit that accompanied me as I spent hours each day in gospel study while preparing for my mission. While I may not be preparing for a mission, I am preparing for an audience with the Lord and intend to be prepared when that day comes. I also intend to have that audience while yet in this mortal life.
How about you? How are you doing on your preparations to meet the Lord? Are you motivated and do you spend the time required to know what He expects and needs you to know before He can reveal Himself unto you? How much time do you spend in gospel study each day? Are you consistent? Are you discovering new things, immersing yourself in the scriptures and coming to understand the voice of the Lord?
I invite you to join me in getting serious about studying the gospel. Make it a higher priority. Be aware of the natural tendency to think that you have learned enough. Believe that the Lord has so much more that He wants to reveal to you. Be willing to pay the price through study and prayer. If you are already serious and consistent in your studies then I congratulate you and pray for the Lord’s choicest blessings upon you.
I promise you that the Lord will reveal great and marvelous things to those who make the effort in this life to receive them. I have tasted just enough of those promises that I know I want more. I have been immersed in the light of truth and the sweet comforting spirit of the Holy Ghost on many occasions after study and prayer. I want more. I want to know the mysteries of Godliness that he offers to share with each of us.
At the close of our High Priest’s group meeting today, I was surprised by a question from a good brother sitting next to me. “Why do you study so much?” I wondered why he asked that until I realized what I had done during the lesson. I had placed the piano bench in front of me, spread out my scriptures and was marking a copy of the General Conference talk we were studying.
So I took a minute to answer his question which turned to why I blog. I explained that my mother was a convert and a professional teacher when I was growing up. She ingrained in me a desire to continually study and learn. She had an insatiable appetite to know the history of our church. Our home library was filled with books about Joseph, Brigham, John Taylor and other early leaders.
As a family (or at least with my mother and sister) we attended Education Week and Know Your Religion lectures. Our gospel discussion before my mission was all about doctrine, especially the doctrines of salvation, the temple and the eternities. Mother loved nothing better than to teach what she had learned as a convert. She often taught the Gospel Doctrine Sunday school class.
I told my friend that I studied every possible moment I’m not working or attending to family duties because I want to thoroughly know and understand the doctrines of our church. I don’t want to be like so many I have read about online who say they have been shocked and dismayed when they learned something distressing about our history that they hadn’t heard in church.
I gave him an example. I said, “Do you know there are people in our church who believe in reincarnation? How do you feel about that?” He said, “I know we’ll be resurrected, but I don’t believe that’s the same as reincarnation.” I said, “You’re absolutely right. But there are people using quotes from early church leaders to suggest they believed and taught this as doctrine.”
He said he couldn’t understand how members of the church could believe such a thing. He was a convert and explained that he would think and pray about what he was learning before accepting it. Sometimes well-meaning people would try to tell him that Mormons believed this or that. “But I knew by the spirit that they were wrong, no matter how convincing their arguments.”
Strait and Narrow Path
We concluded our discussion of how we can know truth for ourselves. His unsolicited comment that he “knew by the spirit” was gratifying to hear. We use that phrase often in our church but I remain convinced that there are many who do not appreciate or know how it works. D&C 8:2 holds the key to understanding how we can “know by the spirit” in both our heart and our mind.
Those who approach the world primarily with an intellectual focus often disdain the emotional or sentimental aspects of knowing truth. They remain convinced that there is no place for sentiment in our church service, that the telling of faith-promoting stories is out of place or being moved to tears is not appropriate when considering the doctrines of salvation. I believe they are mistaken.
Those who pass through life responding mainly to how they feel about something but avoid any study of doctrine or history are missing out on the second half of the formula for understanding truth. We know something is true by the spirit when we are edified – when we both feel that it is right and we understand why it is right. It’s a fine line that includes both feeling and knowing.
A Book of Quotes
I recently came across a book that purports to contain Mormon doctrine being offered for sale on Amazon and a few other places. Now I have dozens of books in my library that claim to be full of Mormon doctrine but in reality are riddled with half-truths, innuendos and lies. The difficulty of these kinds of books is that they contain so much truth that the lies are difficult to see clearly.
Such is the case of the book entitled, “Teachings of the Doctrines of Eternal Lives.” Somebody who wished to remain anonymous has gone to a lot of trouble to collect hundreds of quotes from the early leaders of the church and arrange them in an order that seems to lend support for each succeeding section. I applaud the efforts but what is being implied is based on a false doctrine.
No, the idea of Eternal Lives itself is not a false doctrine but it’s not what the book is attempting to prove or justify by all the supporting quotes. Almost all the quotes themselves are wonderful. It’s a delight to see them all in one place. Any serious student of the gospel will be familiar with most of them or should be. If you’re not careful you can skip right over the few that are wrong.
Doctrine of Eternal Lives
The doctrine of Eternal Lives as I understand it is the idea that once exalted we will be able to have eternal increase. In other words, we can become Gods ourselves, parents of spirit children. I don’t pretend to fully understand it because I obviously haven’t experienced it but it is a core component of Mormonism. We can become like God. That’s the whole purpose of life to me.
This should be basic knowledge to every member of the church but if you want to understand this better, I’m actually going to recommend that you buy the book. I have read it online at Scribd and will be picking up a copy at the Confetti Book Store in Spanish Fork next week on my way to a family reunion in Ogden. Like I said, it is a worthwhile compilation of quotes.
You can look up some of the basics in the scriptures and in the words of the prophets using phrases like “continuation of the seeds, eternal increase, exaltation, celestial marriage, calling and election, Church of the Firstborn, Fulness of the Father, Godhood, joint heirs with Christ,” and of course, “eternal lives.” This really is a basic doctrine taught in our standard curriculum.
The Principle of Reincarnation
Even though the compiler adds very little commentary, there is some sprinkled throughout the book along with questions following specific quotes. He also bolds key phrases that he wants you to notice and ponder. As I read the book I kept feeling that there was something wrong with where the compiler was trying to lead me. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read this quote:
“…his sister, the late Eliza R. Snow Smith was a firm believer in the principle of reincarnation and that she claimed to have received it from Joseph the Prophet, her husband.” This is from the journal of Orson F Whitney, recounting a conversation with Lorenzo Snow. So we have a third person account of what Joseph is supposed to have said (p. 73). Compare that to this exchange:
A Doctrine of the Devil
“I resumed conversation with Matthias, and desired him to enlighten my mind more on his views respecting the resurrection. He said that he possessed the spirit of his fathers, that he was a literal descendant of Matthias, the Apostle, who was chosen in the place of Judas that fell; that his spirit was resurrected in him; and that this was the way or scheme of eternal life—this transmigration of soul or spirit from father to son.
“I told him that his doctrine was of the devil, that he was in reality in possession of a wicked and depraved spirit, although he professed to be the Spirit of truth itself; and he said also that he possessed the soul of Christ. He tarried until Wednesday, 11th, when, after breakfast, I told him, that my God told me, that his god was the devil, and I could not keep him any longer, and he must depart. And so I, for once, cast out the devil in bodily shape, and I believe a murderer.”
The above quote from the prophet Joseph is found in the History of the Church, volume 2, page 307. Transmigration of the soul is the same as a belief in reincarnation. Joseph nailed it when he said that his guest was possessed of an evil and lying spirit. Unfortunately, that same spirit seems to be the source of what our anonymous quote compiler is trying to persuade us to believe.
A Dangerous and Damning Belief
Why is a belief in reincarnation so dangerous? To believe in reincarnation is to take away the focus and incentive we should have to make every moment of this life count in preparation for our continued schooling in the life to come. If one believes they will be given another chance then there is no real desire to do one’s best. Why knock yourself out if you can do it over again?
We are born once, we die once (Heb 9:27) and we are resurrected once to die no more (Alma 11:45 & 12:18). That’s the doctrine of the church as taught by the Lord through the prophet Joseph Smith in scripture that we as a church have accepted as binding. Anything other than that is dangerous and damning because it prevents us from progressing in this life as we should.
In the words of Bruce R McConkie, reincarnation “is a false doctrine originating with the devil. It runs counter to the whole system and plan of salvation whereunder spirits are born in pre-existence, are permitted to pass through a mortal probation, and then in due course become immortal, incorruptible, and eternal in nature.” As a church, we do not believe in reincarnation.
Now, maybe I’m wrong that the compiler is trying to lead us to accept reincarnation. Perhaps he wants us to consider some of the other quotes about the resurrection suggesting that the way we are resurrected is to be born of a woman once again, only this time through an immortal or glorified mother. I confess I never heard of “baby resurrection” until I read it in this book.
This idea is not as damning as reincarnation as long as you assert that the baby being born is an immortal being and NOT about to go once again through a mortal probation. As I wrote when I explained my understanding of the doctrine of eternal lives, I know I don’t fully understand the doctrine of the resurrection because I have not experienced it and don’t have the keys to do so.
I have considered the idea Brigham taught when he said Adam came into this world the same way you or I came into it – born of a woman. That woman was his Heavenly Mother. Thus he was born an immortal being. That makes perfect sense to me. Yes, I know it’s out there and considered by some to be a part of the Adam God theory, but I like to think about these things.
Anyway, I’m going to buy the book and read it again. It’s really more of a reference work since there is so little of the author’s own words included. There are some questionable books about our religion that I won’t add to my library, but this is one that will find a home right next to “The Mysteries of Godliness” by David John Buerger and all of my D. Michael Quinn books.
I hope you don’t feel threatened by reading stuff from people who were once members of our faith but who are no longer formally associated with us, either by choice or by disciplinary action. I don’t feel there is anything wrong with reading well-researched material and drawing your own conclusions. I enjoy the intellectual challenge of discerning truth from error.
I think the Lord is serious about us learning truth and expects us to put D&C 8:2 to the test in all that we study. Our time is limited in this life so we should focus our doctrinal study efforts on those things that will prepare us to receive the Lord, preferably in this life (D&C 93:1) so that we may depart mortality with a perfect hope, knowing our standing before the Lord. That is my goal.
All my life in the church I have heard the promises of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These are held out as motivating ideas that are intended to help us resist the pull and attraction of worldly pleasures. In this short essay, I would like to consider just one of those promises and the power for good that it should have in our lives.
Of course, the attraction of promises pre-supposes that you are the kind of person that is motivated by the “moving-toward” model. If you’re not familiar with the idea, it comes from the book Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins. He states, “All human behavior revolves around the urge to gain pleasure or avoid pain.”
Tony’s shorthand for this is “pain or gain.” Which one drives you? Of course the concept is not original with Tony but he made it a focus of his seminars and books. The idea has been around forever and stated in different ways by various thinkers. The process is not absolute. We move toward some things and away from others.
However, most of us live our lives predominantly either moving toward a goal or moving away from an unpleasant situation, either past, present or future. You can easily determine your predominant model by describing something you desire. Do you express it in terms of what it is or what it isn’t, what you want or don’t want?
For example, think about and describe your ideal home or family. How about your ideal job? I was surprised to note that I described my ideal home in terms of what I want, but my ideal job in terms of what I don’t want. Maybe that’s because I am towards the end of my career and have seen plenty of negatives I want to avoid.
The greatest gift
What are the most important gospel promises that we should consider? Let’s start with the big one – eternal life. I’m not talking about being resurrected; that’s a given and a free gift from the Savior as part of the gospel plan. I’m talking about being able to live the kind of life that God lives, with complete joy and fulfillment.
In modern revelation it is recorded that “there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.” (D&C 6:13) We are also told that “if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.” (D&C 14:7) Salvation in the fullest sense is defined as eternal life.
So just what is eternal life and how can we relate to it since we have nothing to which we can compare it in this life? In order for something to be desirable and worthy of sacrifice, we must have at least some sense of its attractiveness. In fact, it is up to the Lord to make us fully aware of what really comprises eternal life.
Salvation without exaltation
In the LDS Church, we commonly refer to exaltation as the kind of life that God lives, and consider it to be synonymous with eternal life. We also consider it to be the fullness of salvation. If we want to get a little more precise, let’s consider one common aphorism used to describe it: “Salvation without exaltation is damnation.”
This is a saying that engenders intense debate even among LDS scholars because I have read it online many times over the years. I agree with that adage because for me, it appeals to my predominant “moving away from” model. Yes, I confess that I am more inclined to make life choices in order to avoid unpleasant possibilities.
I consider the moving-away from model of thinking to be very mortal; not weak, just mortal. But I’m grateful to know that the Lord is fully aware of this approach. This is evidenced by the twofold promise of the Book of Mormon: If you keep the commandments of God you will be blessed. If you don’t, then you will be cursed.
Yes, tell me more about the negatives of a behavior and I will do my best to avoid it because I can see the results such behavior has produced in others. The only way I am motivated by a promise of eventual reward is if I have experienced something similar, even if it is in a small degree. My mortal mind doesn’t “get” eternal life.
Yet, in my heart I know that there is life after death. I have had too many personal evidences presented for my consideration to feel otherwise. I am satisfied that the concept of a spirit world is real; that there are unseen beings operating in a plane of existence just outside my mortal perception; and many times acting on my behalf.
Learning from opposition
So how does the Lord reach people like me who need a more solid understanding of eternal life in order to be motivated by the promise? I guess I’m kind of like the child that hears from a parent, “if you work hard in school, you’ll have an easier life when you get older.” It’s true, but it didn’t work for me when I was a child.
An easy life to a child is loving acceptance, lots of playtime, a warm, comfortable home, lots of food to eat and that safe, secure feeling that comes from knowing that dangers are far, far away, or even better, being oblivious to the concept of danger. But such a life doesn’t work as we get older because we experience opposition.
And that’s why I am more motivated by an understanding of what eternal life will not be like. I have experienced opposition, adversity, setbacks, disappointments and many painful shocks brought on by unforeseen and unwanted reality checks. Because of these experiences, I know what I don’t want eternal life to be like.
Of course, I don’t set the rules when it comes to my quality of life after death. But I do “get” the idea that I can determine a large part of that life quality by what I do or don’t do and how I respond to the life choices that are presented to me. There really is a lot of truth to the idea that a man is about as happy as he decides to be.
Disappointments will cease
I don’t want eternal life to be disappointing. I don’t think God is disappointed. Even though we believe that his most important work is us, his children, I don’t think he is ever really disappointed in us. I also don’t believe that his plans for us are ever really frustrated. We will get out of this life what we came here to get.
What we came here to receive is an understanding and appreciation for eternal life – the kind of life that God lives – that we never could have accomplished without experiencing opposition, adversity, disappointment, trail, heartache, frustration and pain. So whatever the outcome of our lives, we will appreciate eternal life better.
That appreciation comes by application of the “moving away from” model of life. Although we may not understand all the promises of peace, happiness, freedom, personal power, contentment and joy that are held out to us, we now know what we don’t want eternal life to be like. We don’t want it to be like our life here on earth.
Yes, I have experienced happiness in this life. I have experienced success, some personal power, a measure of peace, plenty of freedom and lots of growth. But even in achieving these things, I immediately realized that they were temporary and not complete. They do not last because of the transient nature of mortality.
Moving away from pain
Do you see? I now understand something about eternal life that I never could have fathomed before and something that I don’t want. I don’t want good things to end as they do in this life. I work long and hard to create my home and family life that I do not want to see come to an end. I don’t want that work to be wasted or to fail.
So for me, moving toward gospel promises is meaningless unless I have something concrete to compare them to. I am motivated to move away from something that I don’t want. I don’t want sickness, physical pain and death; therefore I am attracted by the promise of a resurrection, which becomes more attractive the older I get.
I don’t want to be disappointed in myself in the life to come. Carol has a way of expressing this that I find memorable. She says, “Do you think God will take away the memory of being married to someone if you don’t live worthy of them?” How tortuous that would be to see your mortal spouse and not be able to be with them!
So for me, gospel promises are more motivating when I think about what I might lose as opposed to what I might gain. I don’t want to lose things that I have been given or have earned. Yes, I believe we must earn or qualify for some blessings in the life to come. Eternal life is a gift, but we must meet the requirements for it.
I’ll bet there are at least a half dozen theological ideas expressed in this essay with which non-LDS readers will disagree. In fact, I’m certain that many of my LDS readers will also take exception to some of my statements. That’s OK. I welcome the dialog and hope that maybe something I have expressed has been helpful.
I love the Lord’s promises but I confess that I just don’t get some of them because of my weak, limited mortal way of seeing things. I believe the promises and am certain that they will mean a lot more when I get to the spirit world. Today, I just want to keep the good things I have gained from my experience with opposition.
Earlier in this essay I wrote that since we have no real concept of eternal life, it is God’s responsibility to make it appear attractive to us. I mean that. But how he does that may be different for each one of us. In my case, I am enticed by the spirit whispering to me that in the next life, I will no longer have to endure temptation.
I love that promise.
I’ve been reading the arguments on MormonThink.com off and on for several years now. I have a lot of respect for the individuals behind the site, even though most of them choose to be anonymous. I am confident that I have been visited by several of the contributors there or at least by those who read their site and others like it such as Ex Mormon and Post Mormon.
I am by no means a scholar or intellectual. I think I’m pretty smart and that I’m pretty good with logic. After all, I have made a living for thirty years demystifying computers for others. But I know there are a lot of people out there who are smarter than I am and who have the academic credentials to prove it. I like to think that I’m just a regular, average, typical Latter-day Saint.
I like smart, thinking people and especially people who present logical conclusions well, either in writing or verbally. Critical thinking is a skill that I am constantly striving to improve. I confess that I am impressed when someone can speak or write with confidence, especially when it comes to doctrines and practices of the church. That’s why I continue to take college classes each year.
Choosing to believe
But I’d like to take exception with one of the common threads I find in the essays on sites like MormonThink.com. It has to do with choosing to believe. The concept of voluntary or involuntary belief has been discussed by philosophers for millennia. But it’s such a basic part of how I deal with the sort of intellectual issues on Mormon Think that I want to share it with you.
I disagree with those who contend that beliefs are not voluntary acts of will. There is no doubt in my mind that I am a voluntarist when it comes to my beliefs about the church and our history. This is especially true in light of, or in spite of all the fascinating historical facts that I have read over the years that are just not taught to or even known by the majority of the Latter-day Saints.
Invariably I have found that those who label themselves atheists also claim to be involuntarists. I am coming to the conclusion that those who embrace the title of Ex Mormon, Post Mormon or Former Mormon also see their position as involuntary. “It was inevitable,” they say, “based on what I have learned, I had no other choice but to now disbelieve what I had formally believed.”
Well, that’s where we differ. I have spent many years studying the same material that has been so troubling and bothersome to so many of my fellow seekers of knowledge. I can honestly say that my faith has been strengthened and my belief deepened that Joseph was who he claimed to be – a prophet of God – and that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be – Holy Scripture.
I have no doubt that there are many in the church, who, if they studied the same material we have written about on our blogs and websites, would be absolutely freaked out and would soon leave the church. They are either social Mormons only or are not strong in their desire to know more about the history of our church. I don’t think these kinds of people are your typical Mormons.
What’s missing from sites like MormonThink.com, and what you’ll find in abundance on the official church web sites, is the role of faith, and especially encouraging faith. There is way too much emphasis on the intellect and not enough focus on feelings. The section on Testimony and Spiritual Witness relegates the role of feelings of faith as something to be dissected and derided.
Announcing new website
That’s reason why I decided to start my own website, LatterdayCommentary.com. This blog is hosted on that domain, which I registered years ago. It’s not much to look at today. In fact, I almost consider it a prototype. I’ve put together some commentary and links to my essays on some of the same subjects that you will find on MormonThink.com. It will grow with time.
I know that I’m just one of thousands of LDS members who have a website where they share their beliefs and testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I like to think that I’m not much different from your average Mormon. I grew up as a member of the church but I come from a convert family. And my viewpoint is definitely that of a laid-back California boy.
I’ve been happy as a member of the LDS Church all my life. I loved my mission and I love going to the temple. I love General Conference and I love serving in a local Bishopric. I hope you’ll take a look at my website and then come back here and make some suggestions as to how I can make it better and more useful in promoting the doctrines of our LDS faith to the world.
I have been a lifelong student of human motivation, particularly self-motivation. No, I’m not an expert and what motivates me may not motivate you. A long time ago I discovered something that drives me to action more than anything else. It is found in the scripture quoted in the title of this essay as written in Proverbs 29:18.
When I catch the vision of the way something can be that I want, I find myself willing to give untold hours to moving that vision from a dream to a reality in life. Conversely, if I have not seen myself doing something in my mind’s eye, I find my motivation lacking to do all the work that is required to accomplish a worthy goal.
This is particularly true when someone else has a vision but is ineffective in getting me to see it for myself. For example, you can tell me all day long about the great benefits of eating right and exercising regularly, but unless I see myself benefiting from good eating and exercise habits, I will always find other ways to use my time.
What’s in it for me?
As much as I hate to admit it, in some ways, my personal motivation is selfish. Oh, I have altruistic tendencies and a strong sense of duty that serves me well, but what really gets me excited to be involved in something worthwhile is when I can see how it benefits me, my family, my friends and others with whom I associate.
And I mean that literally – to see. I have discovered that I am a both a visual and a tactile learner. Auditory learning is tertiary to me and is most effective when I hear someone describing something that I can then see myself doing or enjoying. If you can show me how I can accomplish something, you’ve got my attention.
I’ve also discovered over the years, and as much as I may deny it, I enjoy both the satisfaction and the recognition that comes when I complete a difficult task, or when I perform to the best of my ability. I don’t think I am alone in this desire. Where we differ is in what we do to obtain that recognition and yes, admiration.
Role models are important
Think about it. Who are your heroes in life? And why are they examples to you? What have they done that deserves your admiration and respect? Usually it is because they have accomplished something difficult that you would like to do. They have demonstrated that it can be done and that it is worth paying the price.
Fortune and fame are two powerful motivating factors that many in our world will do anything, literally anything, to achieve. I don’t mean to disparage anyone, but Madonna and Britney Spears are two examples that come to mind as someone who has gone overboard in the climb to the top. Much has been sacrificed to get there.
On the other hand, for me personally, I have found great role models in the men who lead this church – the apostles and prophets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of course they are not perfect, but they do all within their power to lead others unto Christ. And from what I’ve seen, their wives are special too.
Sharing the vision
One of the reasons why I find it so enjoyable to follow the Brethren who lead this church is because most of them are so good at sharing their vision of the work in which they are engaged. I need that. While I enjoy the instruction I receive in General Conference, I am most spiritually fed when my vision has been enlarged.
Let me see if I can explain better what I mean by sharing the vision. When I was a young man preparing for my mission, I had the luxury of spending every day for the six months immediately prior to leaving, in daily gospel study, from morning until evening. I did not work. I simply read and studied the gospel and learned.
I felt like I was in paradise. I enjoyed a special sense of motivation at this time of my life because the Lord had given me a vision of what kind of a missionary I could be if I really understood the doctrines of the kingdom and knew for myself that they were important and true. I wanted to know how others explained them.
Understanding the doctrine
I read everything I could get my hands on that helped me to see how the gospel could most effectively be taught. I voraciously studied commentaries of others who I considered to be masters in the field of Mormon doctrine. As you can imagine, Bruce R. McConkie was one whose works I devoured incessantly.
My personal religious library had been recently augmented by a large collection of doctrinal and church history books received as a gift from my mother right after she closed her LDS bookstore. I studied all day, worked with the missionaries and then went to Institute classes and Know your Religion lectures with my family.
I caught a love of learning from my mother, but I did not obtain the vision of why it was important to obtain all the knowledge I could until the Lord showed it to me in answer to prayer. It is a sacred experience, but one I have related in a previous essay. With that vision, I understood why I needed to study and know the doctrine.
The vision motivates
Once the Lord showed me what I could accomplish with a deep understanding of the doctrines of the church, I had the drive and ambition to devote all my time to achieving that vision. The kind of vision I’m talking about is not something that can be given by another man, no matter how good he is at describing things.
That vision was intense and it was prophetic. It remains with me to this day, even though it has been thirty-two years since it transpired. It has not yet been fulfilled, nor will it be for many years to come. It is personal and sacred but it has done more for me than anything else to get me to continue my daily study of the gospel.
Because the Lord showed me things in vision when I was so young, I have always felt a desire to do all within my power to accomplish that vision. Perhaps it will not be in this life. Perhaps what I saw is intended to be fulfilled in the life to come. It does not matter. Because of that vision, I am motivated to study and to learn.
Summary and conclusion
I am fascinated by men and women with vision and who know how to share it. I am especially enthralled when listening to someone describe their vision in such a manner that allows me to see it for myself. Once I have that vision in my mind’s eye, I am a changed man, because I want to do all within my power to achieve it.
In my opinion, the visions of the Lord are the most motivating influence in the world. Men will give their lives, and many have, to building up the Kingdom of God upon the earth because they have the vision of what the Lord’s work really is. It is especially powerful when the Lord shows men their place in the kingdom.
I have seen that vision. I know what the Lord wants me to accomplish with my life. I feel extremely blessed to have received this powerful vision when I was so young. It has blessed me all my life and kept me motivated to do things that are hard to do. Someday, I know that vision will be fulfilled just as I have seen it.
One of the most oft-repeated admonitions by the Lord in scripture is to read the scriptures. It is also something that we hear often from the pulpits at the Conference Center and our local ward. In meeting with any Bishop, if you ask for advice on how to feel more spiritual, closer to the Lord, stronger in the gospel and happier, what do you think he is going to counsel you to do?
And yet, how much of our time each day is spent in reading scriptures and studying the gospel? Actually, I’d like to separate those into different activities. A verse by verse, chapter by chapter reading of the scriptures is one type of activity that can bring great blessings. You can feel very satisfied at having completed a task and a sense of accomplishment as you finish each chapter.
On the other hand, gospel study is more thematic and in my opinion, closer to what the Savior asks us to do when he invites us to search the scriptures. For many members of the church the only gospel study they get is obtained in Sunday school class or Priesthood and Relief Society meetings. Far too few of us have a regular gospel study program to understand doctrine better.
Educating the Saints
Members of the LDS church are at all kinds of different levels in their response to the Savior’s admonition to study His word. I know adult members of the church who have been members all their lives who have never read the Book of Mormon. Seriously. They come to church faithfully each week and enjoy listening to the discussions in class, but rarely add any insights themselves.
Then there are members in our midst who know the scriptures backward and forward and bless us as they teach our Sunday classes, and in our seminaries and institutes. Over the years, I have served with some priesthood leaders who are scriptorians, and with some who know the gospel, but are always saying, “I know it says somewhere…” Which do you think were more effective?
If we have been even partly conscientious in our efforts to follow the prophets over the years, we should be able to say that we have read the Book of Mormon a least a few dozen times by the time we reach middle-age. If we follow along with the reading schedule in our Gospel Doctrine class we will have also read the other Standard works seven to ten times by the prime of life.
Why we study the gospel
The objective of gospel study is to feed our souls. President Hinckley called it nourishing by the good word of God. I have felt this nourishment through classroom instruction and in my regular personal gospel study. It is a real thing and something that our spirits crave. Gospel study brings deep and powerful contentment when coupled with a close relationship with God through prayer.
Some people absorb this spiritual nourishment better in the classroom where they can discuss what they are learning with others. They may find it difficult to really get anything out of the scriptures without someone to guide them. I enjoy both classroom instruction from inspired teachers and the deep feelings that come in pondering from personal gospel study activities.
I have found that my personal gospel study has evolved over the years. When I was a missionary I focused almost exclusively on the basic doctrines I was teaching in the standard discussions. I added a lot of church history and a whole lot of the more uncommon theological doctrines to my personal study when I returned from my mission. Lately, I have studied controversial topics just so I could understand what the controversy was about and so I could discuss them intelligently.
Controversy does not satisfy
I have noticed over the past few years, as I have studied and written about the more speculative and controversial topics that the spiritual nourishment has not been the same as that which I get from the basic doctrines of the restoration. While it may be more intellectually stimulating and emotionally exciting, it does not feed my soul with the comfort of the basics of the gospel.
I’ve pondered about why that is and have come to the conclusion that, while I may have reached some unique understandings of the speculative doctrines, I have had a difficult time sharing that research with others in a manner that they feel comfortable. They have not had the advantage of digging into the same sources so they can’t share in my enthusiasm for what I have discovered.
So while I plan to continue my efforts to understand some of the theology that is not commonly taught or discussed in our Sunday classes, I do not feel that it does much good to help nourish my soul because I can’t share it. On the other hand, when I teach or speak about the comforting doctrines of salvation from the pulpit, I am greatly nourished and edified with my fellow saints.
Nourishing others in church
Elder Packer counseled us to teach the doctrines of salvation in simplicity. He said there is great power and safety in this approach. He challenged us to become proficient and expert in our ability to present the basic doctrines in such a way that our listeners understand the truths being taught and that they are also fed by the spirit of the Lord, which is beyond our natural ability.
I recognize that this can be difficult for some to accept, because they are looking for intellectual stimulation when they come to church. That is a problem. If you have been a member of the church for more than a few years, chances are that you have heard all the basic Sacrament topics and the Sunday school subjects more than a few times. We’re just not teaching any new stuff.
When Elder Holland visited our stake many years ago, he taught us about the importance of being edified. When we teach, we are not just imparting information, we are also charged with the task of being a conduit for the spirit to work through us in feeding the souls of others. To be edified is to be both instructed and uplifted. The Lord was serious when he said, “Feed my sheep.”
Summary and conclusion
The Lord asks us to study the gospel and be very familiar with the scriptures because he wants us to both be nourished and to be able to nourish others. I suspect that there are too many of us who have not yet understood the idea of nourishing. Sharing knowledge, facts, history, and scriptures without helping others find the hand of the Lord in that information is not helpful to our souls.
We are so much more than minds that need more information. We live in a world of information overload and yet there are so many among us who are starving for the things of the spirit. We are not asked to stand in front of a class or at the pulpit to demonstrate how well we can rehearse the basic tenets of our doctrine. We are charged to nourish and to feed the soul – not the mind.
That’s a real talent. No, it’s a gift – a gift of the spirit that needs to be requested of the Lord in prayer. As we study the gospel, especially the basics of the restored gospel, we should ask the Lord for help in understanding how we can effectively teach what we are studying. We need to teach in such a way that the Lord can work though us to answer the prayers of those we teach.