Saturday, April 22, 2017

Magnifying our Probation

I have been thinking lately of what our expectations ought to be - of what God expects of us, more accurately.

It seems to me that if we are blessed with healthy bodies and minds that we are put here not only to survive and be good, but to use those blessings and magnify them. We should be doing so by exercising our spiritual abilities, because that is where we can achieve our highest potential even in our temporal lives.

As we travel in our mission, we have been listening to the Journal of Discourses of Brigham Young as edited by John A. Widstoe. In several of his lectures, he points out that to God, nothing is temporal; all is spiritual to Him. It is a completely logical conclusion, of course. All we do should be balanced among the physical, mental and spiritual in order to achieve our highest potential.

In 2Nephi 9, we read of the dangers and consequences of becoming out of balance. Most of the 54 verses talk about the atonement and how we must qualify ourselves to receive the great blessings of the atonement by repenting. Jacob then makes this observation:
v. 27 But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!

Then he elaborates further:
v.28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. and they shall perish.
v. 29 But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

He then goes on to say similar things about those who focus on their riches and don't listen to the counsels of God. Similarly, he points out the vanity of those who will not open their spiritual eyes and ears.

He concludes this line of thought with these verses:
v. 42 ...and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich who are puffed up because of their learning and their wisdom, and their riches -- yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them.
v. 43 But the things of the wise and the prudent shall be hid from them forever--yea, that happiness which is prepared for the saints.

Brigham Young states that even the atheist can receive the Holy Ghost as he or she devotes time and energy in efforts to accomplish things that will benefit mankind. What is missing is the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost that will allow that person to achieve the highest of their potential.

It also occurs to me that we cannot be lazy as to the things of this world and simply cloister ourselves  only in what we consider to be spiritual matters. We have an obligation to expand our minds, exercise our bodies, care for our family members, and make a success of our financial situations, but with spiritual purpose. With proper balance, we can achieve more of our potential; more of God's expectations for each of us, individually.

We must not become prideful of whatever it is that we achieve, but we must not sell ourselves short by making excuses for our failure to try. Will we ever be totally in balance? Probably not, we have to make constant course corrections, but we are only expected to stay on the path. Perfection comes only through the grace of Christ, but we magnify our gifts as we exercise them with proper focus.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Promise and Prosperity

As I read again the books of 1st and 2nd Nephi I wondered what it means when the Lord calls a certain place a land of promise and what it means to prosper in that land.

The land to which Moses led the children of Israel was a promised land. It was to be a land of milk and honey, implying a land of plenty. It does not compare, however, to the abundance of the promised land which we know as the Americas for fertile soil, varieties of edible and beautiful flora, abundant deposits of precious and useful minerals, or animals useful for milk, meat, or bearing burdens. The Americas, however, seem to have no more of these natural resources than the African continent. The term "promised land," or "land of promise" has to have a different meaning.

The problem with the term "prosper" is that it is relative. To modern society it would mean something entirely different from a tribal society in the distant past. A closer reading of the context in which these terms are expressed gives me a different meaning for each of them.

Lehi teaches that the land is "consecrated," or in other words, it is blessed and set apart to bring the prophecies and promises f the word of God to pass. Further, it will be a land of peace and liberty so long as the inhabitants are more willing to follow God than to hearken to Satan. The evidence that such is true is in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Societies enjoy peace and abundance until they love the lies of Satan more than the words of eternal life. Then societies fail, are lost in wars or are taken captive by an enemy who knows not the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Query whether all lands where the people are righteous are lands of promise. They will be blessed and their people favored by God, but their lands are not consecrated. No prophet will arise to open a dispensation, and no scriptural record will emanate from there. Those are evidences of a promised land, in my limited observation. A promised land is a land set apart for a chosen people. A chosen race is not distinguished by skin color, ethnicity or even by ancestors, rather it is a people which has the honor and the obligation of receiving and then sharing and spreading the word of God that comes through His prophets.

What of prosperity? If we prosper are we then prosperous? If so, what does that look like? What one person considers prosperous, another finds scant, and yet another may find fabulously wealthy. Few I have met would define their personal circumstances as prosperous, but consider other's to be so. That is because we equate wealth, money and other material acquisitions with prosperity. Some equate freedom from want of the basics of life and the ability to live independently from the largess of others as prosperity. Others would see prosperity as the ability to afford to do whatever they want or to do nothing at all. That is why we think of prosperity as a relative term

Is that what God promises those who dwell righteously in a promised land? It doesn't seem that He would use a relative term to make such a promise. Otherwise, we could assume that one who suffers a business failure is unrighteous and that the opposite is righteous.

2Nephi 1: 20 states that if we in a promised land keep His commandments, we will "prosper in the land." If we do not, we shall be "cut off" from His presence. Is  prosperity, then, to be in the presence of God? It seems to me that it is. It is also liberty. Verse 23: "...put on the armor of righteousness" and "shake off the chains" of captivity.

Satan makes no such promise; he cannot. Instead, he turns prosperity on its head. Freedom from the restraints of the commandments, as he and his minions would phrase it, always results in captivity in one form or another. When our goal to achieve prosperity is one of accumulation (of wealth, friends, followers, or whatever) the result is insatiable pride. What matters is not what we have, but only that we have more than others.

True prosperity is, no matter what your personal circumstances may be, to live in God's presence.