The Power of the Sacrament


I wrote an essay several years ago on my old blog that still gets a lot of hits even though I retired that blog and transferred everything over here. I’m glad I kept the old blog up because occasionally I get a comment there that inspires me to write something profound. Well, I think it’s at least inspired and uplifting. I felt impressed to share it here. It starts with the comment from Samantha:

Hello,

I recently started meeting with my Bishop to repent for other sins that I had committed. I was almost ready to get my Temple Recommend when Satan came at me with full-force. I began to engage in watching pornography and masturbation.

My Bishop is a wonderful man, but I am far too scared to tell him of the addiction that I am faced with. It is not a daily habit, but it is still a problem. I have prayed, and I have come to realize I cannot overcome this on my own.

I feel so awful and depressed after engaging in these behaviors. I want to be clean; I want to go to the temple.

Is there anything else that I can do that would be sufficient for the repentance process? I don’t want to tell my bishop, at all. I do want to overcome this addiction immediately though. Or at least be able to refrain from such atrocities.

Please help.

And my response:

Hi Samantha,

Much love your way. Thanks for reading and adding your comment. I commend you for your desire to increase your self-mastery. That’s a big deal. Some people are not bothered by viewing porn or masturbating. “It’s normal,” they say. In fact, we’re looked upon as being weird because we want to adhere to a higher moral standard commanded by the Lord and his servants.

I recommend visiting the sites I linked to at the end of the original essay. There is a lot of good advice to be found in those pages. Most of the comments I have added here over the years are intended to give hope and encouragement. I want to continue that in responding to your plea for help. I think I wrote this previously but I’ll share it again. This trial can bring you to the Lord.

I feel impressed to share something that may or may not be applicable to you. Perhaps it will be helpful to future readers. It has to do with responsibility and accountability. Going to the temple is a big deal. The temple is a place of revelation. When I go there I always come away knowing more about myself, what I really want out of life and what I want to do with my free time.

I’ll bet like most people who have written me about this problem, you’re fine as long as you keep yourself busy. If you’ve got a regular schedule of work or school or both, you do well in that structure. The difficulty usually comes when there are no pressing demands on your time and nobody waiting for you to do something for them – a teacher, a co-worker or a family member.

That’s usually when your thoughts turn to yourself and what you want. Those are the defining moments of life. Satan knows that, which is why temptation seems to strike hardest when you are pondering something like going to the temple. We grow and advance in our lives when we go to the temple. We come closer to fulfilling our purpose in life as we attend the temple regularly.

The best advice I can offer is to partake of the sacrament and ponder the promises found in the sacramental prayers. The key phrases are “always remember him” and “have his spirit to be with them.” I know you’ve probably heard this in every public prayer and perhaps you offer it your own private prayers – to have his spirit. But do we focus as much on “always remember him?”

There’s something special and wonderful in the Sacrament that even after more than fifty years I still don’t fully understand. No, it’s not magic. We don’t believe in that. But it is powerful and it is real. I feel hopeful after partaking of the sacrament with real intent. I want it to work in my life and because I want that, believe that it can, it does. My power is strengthened by the Sacrament.

At the end of every Sabbath day I feel empowered, partly through offering service but mostly because I have partaken of the sacrament and have pondered how I can better remember the Savior during the week. I think ahead to the moments when I know I will have down time and think what I can do to show the Lord that I do remember him and want his spirit to be with me.

For me, there is something of a miracle that takes place in those quiet moments. Because I have asked, the Lord reveals to me what I will be doing during those quiet moments during the week. I can see myself working on some writing project or some other activity that will be helpful to me and to others. No, it’s not guaranteed that I will do exactly that, but it’s clear that it can be so.

My desire to do good things and be good is strengthened. I am in a partnership with the Lord to make something special out of my life. It is in the quiet moments that my life really develops. But it doesn’t work unless I make the effort to remember the Lord. Every time I do, he gives me special sacred feelings that encourage me and help me feel like I can do all I’m asked to do.

I hope this helps. There is no easy answer. It’s not like you can turn off a switch. Sorry. You’ve got hormones and that’s a good thing. Without them you’ve have no drive or ambition in life. Well, I’m speaking from a man’s point of view. For a woman I suppose that without hormones you would have no desire to nurture and strengthen relationships. I thank God for the sex drive.

Please don’t be so hard on yourself. I have a theory about why we feel depressed or hopeless when participating in pornography or masturbation. I’ve shared it elsewhere. It has to do with the influence of unclean spirits – those who have no hope or light of Christ in their lives. It’s just a natural result of allowing them to use you, even for just a moment. You feel what they feel.

Of course if you don’t believe in the existence of evil or unclean spirits you’re going to think this is crazy. That’s OK. As I wrote at the beginning of my essay, I’m not writing this to those who are unbelievers. My experience in life has settled the question for me. They are real and I know of their existence through experiences too sacred to share. But let’s not dwell on that aspect.

Focus on the Savior. Focus on building hope. Believe that you can eventually master yourself. Be happy that you even want to. God bless you in your efforts. Nobody can do this for you. In the temple we learn all ordinances are personal, performed one at a time for each individual. No answer fits everyone, but I have found this plan has met with success time after time in others.

Good luck and God bless. You can do it.

Moving Toward Gospel Promises


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.

Conclusion

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.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ


A long time ago, in a place that now seems so far away, I sat and suffered alone in silence. My family was out of town on vacation. I had stayed behind due to work commitments. I was worn out from helping others with their problems all week. For some reason, I was struggling to fight off discouragement, and surprised that I should be feeling such sorrow.

As I sat pondering and wondering why I was feeling so sad, I began to think about the Savior and a time of sorrow in his life. Somehow, in some inexplicable way, I began to feel connected to something that happened to him on a similar night so long ago when he too was so alone. I began to imagine the scene in my mind’s eye and to rehearse the events that I remembered.

The Garden of Gethsemane

I turned to the scriptures to read and reread the descriptions of that awful night. In Matthew, I read, “Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.”

In an unusual manner, the phrases referring to the sorrow experienced by the Savior caused me to wonder and ponder all the more. I thought, “Why should he feel so sorrowful? What caused him to feel this way? He had done nothing deserving of such unhappiness and sorrow. There had to be some logical explanation, a cause for this effect. What was it? He was a righteous man, a perfect man. When I feel sorrowful, I can usually discover a reason.”

Another scripture came to mind, this time from Isaiah, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” There it was again, the reference to sorrow, only this time it was associated with grief. What could be the cause?

The cause of sorrow and grief

We are taught that in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Savior suffered for our sins. He paid the price of our mistakes. Continuing in Isaiah, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” We know that we suffer pain, sorrow, guilt, remorse and all kinds of afflictions as the result of doing things that are not in accordance with our value standards.

I believe that when I do something that I know to be wrong, I open a chink in my armor, a crack in my spirit, through which virtue and strength escape. Not only that, but that hole in my spiritual protection allows the adversary a chance to attack me, to get at me and to annoy me. Well, maybe not the devil himself, but certainly one or more of his followers have an advantage over me because of my weakness. My light has diminished and some darkness has entered.

I know from personal experience that when these little minions of the devil get at me I feel annoyed, discouraged, distraught, sorrowful and sometimes even grief-stricken. All this from doing something that is beneath me? Yes. I think if you ponder it, you will recognize that this has happened to you too. Suddenly it struck me. That was the cause of the sorrow and grief described in the scriptures. Somehow the Savior’s shield of light had been diminished that night.

What really happened that night

On that night in the Garden, Satan threw everything and everyone at his command that he could at the Lord. All the hosts of hell conspired against the Savior and tried to destroy him. His shield of protection, his virtue, was weakened to almost nothing or perhaps even removed, so that he was totally exposed to the full power of the adversary and all those who swore allegiance to him. “…yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” God caused it to happen.

That’s the part I had not considered before, “smitten of God.” Without God removing his shield of protection for a few hours, that covering of light and virtue that he deserved because of his perfection, he could not have felt the full effect of the spirits of darkness. They are full of doubt and fear and pain and sorrow and suffering and anguish and grief because they have no faith. They have no light or virtue, only darkness. It must have been horrible to feel such awfulness.

Jesus Christ was exposed that night, and again on the cross the next day, to the full influence of the devil and all the evil spirits that follow him. No wonder he sweat as it were great drops of blood from every pore of his body. The anguish and pressure must have been unfathomable. He did not deserve to feel their influence, but in order to be able to understand how we feel when we are exposed to their power when we sin, he had to be fully exposed. What a terrible thing!

He did not succumb

Although they attacked him with everything they had, every doubt, every fear, every wicked thought and evil temptation, they could not and they did not get through to his clean, pure and virtuous spirit. He won the battle and gained the victory. He did not give in to their thoughts, their suggestions or their whisperings. Because he won, he has all power. He holds the keys of death and hell. The evil spirits must obey him because he is God, even the son of God.

Our Heavenly Father commands us to believe in Jesus Christ, to believe that He is the Son of God and that He has indeed overcome the world and that he did in fact vanquish Satan. We have nothing to fear. This is the good news of the gospel. He won! And because he won his victory over Satan, we can too. He understands perfectly every sorrow, fear, doubt and grief that we experience, because he experienced it too, from the very same source.

He won the right to have all power over the evil spirits. He fought and won the victory in the flesh. Michael and his angels fought and won the battle in heaven in the spirit world. Jesus Christ fought that same battle in the flesh and also won. He was not forced and he was not controlled. He did it on his own. God trusted him. We trusted him. He did it. We can turn to him when we feel overwhelmed or overpowered by the temptations and impressions from the evil spirits.

The atonement gives us power

How does this apply to you and me? This means that we won, too. He overcame all opposition and yet he gave the blessings of that to us. Because of his great love for us and for our Father, he gave the victory to us. He won against all fear and all doubt. He vanquished all those evil spirits that torment you and me. He has already won the victory over them. The spirits are not limited to a specific time like you or me. They tried to destroy him then and come at us in our time now.

That means that whenever those same evil spirits come against you and try to lie and whisper in your ear, saying, “You’re no good,” or “You can’t make it,” you can answer and say, “You lie. I can make it. I can do all things through Jesus Christ which strengthen me. He has already vanquished you. Be gone.” All doubts and fears have been destroyed. They are on borrowed time and they know it. They are brazen and arrogant but they have no faith or power.

There is nothing to fear. Fear has been destroyed. Doubt has been destroyed. These are no longer effective tools of the adversary. Said the Lord, “Doubt not. Fear not. Look unto me in every thought.” The Lord has also said that the reason why prayers are not answered is because there are doubts and fears in our hearts. This means that we have allowed Satan’s lies to have place in us. We have listened to the wrong voice. Cast him out. He lies.

Summary and conclusion

Do not doubt what the Lord has said and do not fear what the adversary can do. If we obey the Lord’s commandments, we have his promise that we have access to his power. He holds out his arms to comfort us and to protect us. We have to but come unto him. We do that through faith in him and obedience to his commandments: to be baptized and to receive the Holy Ghost. Once we do our part, we have a right to receive from him the promises of safety and power over the devil.

We can trust the Lord. He fulfills his promises. He said he would do it in the great council in heaven and he did it. There was no control, force or compulsion involved. He did it of his own free will and choice. He did it because he loved his Heavenly Father and because he loves us. He trusted that our Heavenly Father would bear him up through the terrible ordeal. He gives us power to fulfill our purpose in life because he fulfilled his. We can rejoice and trust him.

He relied on our Father to see him through the pain and suffering of his life and our Father commands us to rely on Him. He will help us through the pain and suffering of our lives. He knows what we are going through. He has been through it for every one of us. He can say that he understands every pain and every suffering, every anguish, every disappointment, every bad thing that has ever happened to us or ever will. He understands, he already met them and won.

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