Tuesday, January 31, 2012

teach people, not lessons

Today is more of a quick thought than a developed post, but I feel the need to share my experience with "seek[ing] not [my] own" yesterday. I've been praying each morning before I start studying these things I've been sharing with you that I can find someone to serve, but I often get to the end of the day and can't think of anyone I've really done anything significant for. Of course, I get to serve my wife almost every day, so I guess that counts, but I was hoping I could do more than that.

Well, as I thought about not being able to serve people this morning, I realized that sometimes our service comes in little things that we take for granted. Yesterday, for example, I went home teaching to two people in my ward. I haven't been able to connect with my new companion yet, so I went my myself. Our most recent copy of the Ensign got thrown away in our cleaning spree last Saturday, so I wasn't able to bring that with me and felt very unprepared for my lessons. However, as I went to visit these two individuals, I found that they needed a listening ear and a helping heart more than a lesson. They're both faithful members trying their best to follow Christ, and they each read the Ensign every month, so they'll get the lesson one way or another. But when Steve started talking about his disappointment with not being accepted to his MBA program and having to re-take the GMAT, I felt like the best thing I could do was to let him get out his frustrations and offer my support and empathy. And when Sister Gabbs talked about how her dog gets lonely sometimes, I could tell that my time with her was just as precious to her as it has become to me. I felt real love for these people and urged them to call me over whenever they needed help, no matter how busy my life might seem.

Like King Benjamin said, in sharing this experience "I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God" (Mosiah 2:16). In fact, I feel deeply and profoundly humbled that the Lord has answered my prayers and helped me learn charity without my even noticing! So when you feel like you're not doing enough to serve and love others, take some time to reflect on the little things you do each day, and you'll find that you are serving in ways you don't even know. And there will even be times when the service you provide doesn't even seem like service to you, but it completely changes the outcome of someone's day for the better. That, I think, is the miracle of Christ and one of the many "tender mercies of the Lord" (1 Nephi 1:20).

Monday, January 30, 2012

meek shall inherit

"How anxious we ought to be to emulate the manner in which God wields power!" (Neal A. Maxwell, "Meekness—A Dimension of True Discipleship")

At the heart of "seek[ing] not [one's] own" lies the heavenly attribute of meekness. Throughout the last week, I have been studying what it means to really be meek. Elder Maxwell's talk goes into great detail about the importance of meekness and what it means to be meek. I won't try to summarize his talk, but instead I want to share a few thoughts that came to me as I pondered the words of the talk.

Elder Maxwell notes that "the Greek rendition of the word meek in the New Testament... is 'gentle and humble.'" As a part of the "body of Christ," it's important that we remember to "esteem other better than [our]selves" (Philippians 2:3) and to gently treat them accordingly. Isn't meekness a necessary precursor to charity?

So when we are seeking the Lord's will, instead of seeking our own, we need to remember that Christ exercised His authority in meekness. He did only "those things that please [the Father]" (John 8:29). He was "filled with compassion towards the children of men" (Mosiah 15:9). He was humble. He sought not His own. As we strive for charity, let us remember to meekly and humbly follow the example of our Savior in doing that which pleases Heavenly Father, especially when it involves kindly serving His children.

Monday, January 23, 2012

as a little child

About a week ago, my wife and I attended the temple at a particularly busy time of the day, so we were able to sit and ponder for about 40 minutes in the chapel before entering our endowment session. Whenever I have time before a session, I like to open the scriptures and read the first chapter I open to, as well as pondering and praying about how I can align my will more with the Father's. On this particular occasion, I happened to open to 3 Nephi 11, the chapter I often used as a missionary to teach those not of our faith about Jesus' visit to the Nephites in the Americas. I love this chapter because of its simple statements of truth and its powerful testimony of the love of our Savior. Toward the end of the chapter, Jesus states His gospel in clear and simple terms: "And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God" (3 Nephi 11:38). I've been baptized and try to repent on a regular basis, but I wondered what the Lord meant by telling us to become as little children, rather than something like memorizing the scriptures or doing everything the same way that Jesus would do it.

In Mosiah 3:19, we read that a little child is "submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father." What struck me then, and continues to shape my perception of God's expectations of me now, is that all of these attributes have to do not with becoming a great man by any normal measure of greatness, such as power, wisdom, financial stability, or even doing the right thing all the time. The Lord simply wants you and me to rely on Him, accept His will, and love everyone no matter what trials might befall us.

I know that as we humble ourselves and submit ourselves to God, He will bless us and lift us up. I love the statement in Helaman 3:35 that says, "sanctification cometh because of [our] yielding [our] hearts unto God." I seek to do this by making a list of priorities in my life, putting the things the Lord has taught me first, and then following that list each day as I decide how to spend my time. So far, whenever I've been able to follow my list, I've finished the day feeling content, happy, and full of thanks to God for blessing me with such a wonderful life. When I've failed to keep my priorities straight, I haven't enjoyed such blessings. I hope each of us can "[seek] not [our] own" by submitting ourselves to the Lord and following His will each day by setting priorities and following them.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

let thy bowels be full of charity

Over the last year, I have had the singular opportunity to lay my hands upon my wife's head and give her blessings by the power of the priesthood. Every single time I do, I am awestruck by the power that allows me to speak for the Lord to my sweetheart. Anyone who has been inspired to speak by the Spirit can relate to this experience. Recently, however, the thought occurred to me that my priesthood service is an extension of Christ's atonement, and therefore must be done according to the Lord's will.

The Doctrine and Covenants reminds us that "the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness" (D&C 121:36). In other words, anyone acting under priesthood authority, or trying to use the priesthood that has been conferred upon them, will only have priesthood power if they are "seek[ing] not [their] own," but are seeking the will of God.

Sometimes, when I give my wife a blessing, I worry that the Lord won't say what she wants to hear. When I let these concerns crowd my mind, I can sometimes think of good things to say to her, but they come without the power that accompanies a normal blessing. If, on the other hand, I clear my mind and allow the Lord to give me the words to say, I feel the blessing come much more easily, and the Spirit is stronger. I'm grateful that the Lord, in His mercy, is able to provide a way to speak to His children without any earthly being having to know the right words to say. And even if I stumble with the wording of a blessing, the Spirit will always speak to my wife and help her understand what I was trying to express.

Anyway, the bottom line that I wanted to share is that as long as we act in accordance with the Lord's will, we will have power to do whatever it is He asks. If we try to do our own will, we'll be left to our own power.

sufficiently humble

The Guide to the Scriptures describes humility as "being meek and teachable" and "recognizing our dependence upon God and desiring to submit to his will." I couldn't imagine a better definition of "charity... seeketh not her own." What keeps getting to me, however, is the fact that as much as I try to be teachable and submit to God's will, I feel like I keep falling back into the same bad habits as before. I remember that the Lord gives us weaknesses so that we may be humble and rely on His grace to make us strong (Ether 12:27), but then I read things like Alma's soul-searching questions to church members who had strayed from the path a bit:
Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? (Alma 5:27)
 I start to wonder whether humility is really enough! On one hand, it seems like the Lord will cover our weaknesses and help us overcome them. On the other hand, it seems like we won't be prepared to meet God unless we're completely cleansed from sin. The footnote for the word "blameless" directs us over to the term "justification," which is defined as being "declared guitless," and is received "by the Savior’s grace through faith in him" (GS--Justification, Justify). It then goes on to explain that faith is shown by repentance and obedience, and now we have completed the circle: we are free from sin if we stop sinning and receive grace.

Right?

Well, if we think that Jesus' grace is only effective if we're doing everything we're supposed to, I think we've missed the point. I would like to share a wonderful BYU Devotional from Brad Wilcox that discusses how Christ's grace can be an effective part of our lives long before we've overcome our many sins and weaknesses. The talk is entitled "His Grace is Sufficient," and you can watch it at byutv.org or read the text at speeches.byu.edu.

If you're like me, you often hold yourself up to an impossible standard. I would challenge you to join me in recognizing that we are incapable of reaching that level of perfection that we so desperately seek, humbling ourselves before the Lord, and relying on His grace to cover us as we strive to learn and do God's will. He will "make weak things become strong unto [us]" (Ether 12:27). But as long as we are still weak, maybe we can follow Peter's counsel and "[cast] all [our] care upon [the Savior]; for he careth for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

how to be happy

Do you want to be happy? Well, like we learned in the last post, the answer is to be selfless (see Selflessness: A Pattern for Happiness). So how do we become more selfless? This same talk shares two simple steps to help you become more selfless, and therefore, more happy!

First, this talk prescribes "a very careful, introspective evaluation." It then lists some questions you can ask yourself, including things like whether you dominate a conversation or whether you listen carefully without interrupting.

Second, we must "develop an attitude of service—the ongoing desire for the well-being of others." This is similar to what I learned a few days ago when I wrote about being part of the body of Christ. What stood out to me is that this must come after a careful examination of the self to identify how I am being selfish.

I think it's helpful to know what it means to be selfish in order to more fully understand selflessness. This talk has a short paragraph defining selfishness:
The dictionary describes a selfish person as one who is “concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself: seeking pleasure or well-being without regard for others.” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.) May we add, a selfish person is often one who refers to “I,” “me,” and “mine” rather than to “we,” “ours,” “yours,” or “theirs.” This person is anxious to be in the limelight, to be on center stage in life’s little dramas. He or she may be a poor listener, or a conversation monopolizer. Selfishness is the great unknown sin. No selfish person ever thought himself to be selfish.
My goal, starting today, is to keep careful note of times when I feel myself slipping into selfishness. As I recognize selfish thoughts or actions in myself, I'll be much more able to stop being selfish and work more on serving others and becoming a real part of the body of Christ.

On a final note, I want to continue my thoughts about those who suffer from conditions that limit their ability to serve selflessly. This talk I've been referring to provides an excellent example of a caring mother who is bedridden and cannot serve her family the way she would like to serve them. Her daughter thought about her feelings of wanting to serve but not being able to, and said "You know, Mother, I think in your case wanting to is enough. Surely you will receive a blessing for service and selflessness as though you went to her home and helped." Like Alma taught, we will be judged not only according to our actions, but also according to our desires (Alma 41:3-5). The Lord will bless those who cannot serve just as much as He would someone who did serve, as long as their desires are the same.

Monday, January 16, 2012

life more abundantly

I thought this would be a weekly blog, but I just can't keep from sharing the wonderful things I learn each day! First off, yesterday was a cool little miracle because we studied chapter 2 of our priesthood manual, "Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself." What a timely message for the same day that I posted my first blog entry about becoming part of the body of Christ! I won't share what I learned from that lesson, but I invite you to spend some time with it on your own; it's a wonderful chapter from President George Albert Smith's teachings.

What I wanted to share today comes from a General Conference talk by H. Burke Peterson, "Selflessness: A Pattern for Happiness." In my study of "charity... seeketh not her own," today I felt impressed to look up the word "selfless" on lds.org, and this was where that lead me. There are many precious gems embedded in that talk for you to dig out, but the one that I was really struck by was how being selfless brings happiness back to the person who is selfless. In Elder Peterson's words:
This morning I would like to teach of another divine attribute—a quality which, when it becomes part of our lives, produces as an outgrowth individuals who are happy in their relationships with others and at peace with themselves and those around them: siblings who enjoy each other more; married couples who cherish their relationships; those who are alone, for whatever reason, who find a fuller and more abundant life. You see, there are those among us today who are completely selfless—as was [Jesus Christ].
What a paradox! If we stop worrying so much about our own well-being, we actually end up becoming happier from it! In a way, selflessness isn't really completely selfless. In other words, if you are struggling with sadness, self-consciousness, or anxiety, you can feel better by forgetting yourself and serving others. It's the ultimate win-win situation!

Of course, I must add here that I understand that there are those of you who struggle with real depression or anxiety disorders who will still feel sad or upset whether you choose to serve others or not. This is one of the most difficult trials I could imagine, because I know how much you want to be happy and serve others. My message to you is that you are wonderful. Remember that "the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). He will bless you for your righteous desires, and someday you will be able to do all of the good you desire and feel all of the happiness you yearn for. Because Christ suffered for you, He "[knows] according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:12). He will help you in His wisdom and His perfect timing.

If we do our best to forget ourselves and serve others with selflessness, "[seeking] not [our] own," I promise that each of us will find true happiness in this life and in the next.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

body of Christ

After careful consideration and prayer, I have decided to start my study of the attributes of Charity with "charity... seeketh not her own."

In Matthew 20:27, Christ teaches that "whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." That seemed like a good place to start. I like the contrast Christ gives before this verse between His mission of love and service without earthly reward and the rulers of the Gentiles, who lived in luxury and power, ordering their servants around. This scripture seems like a pretty good definition of "seeketh not her own."

When we are striving to serve others, our hearts become "knit together in unity and love" (Mosiah 18:21). We care more about each other, and are cared for in return. Moreover, we become "the body of Christ," as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 12:27. In the spirit of true unity, we suffer together and rejoice together (v. 26; see also 1 Peter 3:8), everyone caring more for the united whole than for themselves as individuals. Selfishness, pride, and envy cease, and, just like the human body, if one member suffers, the others give some of their sustenance and support to help heal the hurting member.

Christ gave His life as an example of this kind of love. He suffered with us literally in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Golgotha. He "took upon him ...pains... sicknesses... death... infirmities... [and] sins" (Alma 7:11-13), and "hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows" (Isaiah 53:4).

In light of these scriptures, my goal this week will be to seek the well-being of others instead of worrying about myself. Specifically, I will look for at least one opportunity to help someone in need every day and try to suffer and rejoice with the people close to me. In this way, I can be a little more like Christ.