(Continued from last week…)
Practice makes progress; Jesus makes perfect.
Over these next several weeks we will hopefully be digging up any bad foundation that may exist in us, and begin laying a new one built firmly in the gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ. :)
From our childhood, we are taught about cause and effect. We learn that we can earn good grades, earn an allowance, earn someone’s trust, and eventually earn a decent living. We’re taught that if we do enough of the required work, then we merit the desired outcome. But what kind of effect does this idea of earning have on our spiritual perspective? Do we begin to believe that we can earn our way to heaven? It’s certainly understandable that any of us could jump to that conclusion, since down here, we are taught that we can earn just about everything else. But, perhaps there are some words and attitudes in our religious life that we could potentially look at eliminating.
In our own home, my wife, Kathy, and I have tried to teach our three daughters how to work from an early age. Why?…so that they could earn their three meals for that day? Certainly not. Mostly we have wanted to teach them how to work so that they might develop a good work ethic, that it might become an element of their character, defining in part, who they are. Then hopefully, one day, when they’re grown and on their own, they’ll be responsible contributors to their own families and to the world at large; and they’ll be happy. Laziness never was happiness. And it’s this way with all of the traits we are hoping our girls will develop—love, forgiveness, generosity, an instinct to help someone in need, etc. Now, I believe that God is doing the same with us—His children. In His asking us to serve Him and keep His commandments, He is training us, preparing us for a higher life…a celestial life. But like I said, if we don’t watch ourselves closely, we could start to think that we are earning His blessings, and that we merit or deserve what God has said He will give to us.
Ask yourself this: Do you, perhaps not publicly or vocally, but privately and mentally say to yourself, “I fast this much, I tithe this much, I pray this much, I serve in this calling, I do my home teaching, etc.” and feel like you now merit spiritual and temporal blessings? Does your listing these things make you feel more deserving, more due some assistance or prosperity from the Lord? I have had to check myself in this. In the New Testament, we see that this type of thinking got the Pharisees into trouble with the Savior. Rather, it was the humble, unworthy-feeling prayer: “God, be merciful to me a sinner” that the Lord accepted (see Luke 18: 13 [9-14]). The Lord blesses a meek and lowly attitude and disdains self-exaltation, or patting ourselves on the back.
We are not earning anything. I don’t remember even seeing the word earn in the scriptures. In fact, I just did a word search, and the only form of the word earn that came up (earneth) is found in just one verse of the entire Standard Works…and it’s not used in a favorable light (see Haggai 1: 6).
Jesus gave a parable about a man who went out early in the morning and hired laborers to work in his vineyard, promising them all a silver coin at the end of the day, which was a workman’s daily wage. (See Matthew 20: 1-16.) After a few hours, this same man went out, and noticed in the marketplace, that there were people standing around idle, with nothing to do. He hired them to go to his vineyard and start working, telling them he’d reward them for their labor at the end of the day, by giving them whatsoever was right. This happened again at the sixth hour and the ninth hour. Finally, he came at the eleventh hour and found more standing idle, and asked: “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” and they answered, “Because no man hath hired us.” So the man hired them, giving them the same promise: “Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.” They worked for one hour, and then all the laborers were called by the steward to receive whatsoever was right. Well…every worker received a silver coin! Even those who started working at the eleventh hour were given the same as those who had been there from the first hour through the heat of the day. Now, in our fair view of the workforce, these last workers were grossly overpaid! But shall not all those who inherit—not earn, but inherit—eternal life consider themselves grossly overpaid? As it is written: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2: 9).
This is all something like the idea of a young boy and girl growing up in their parents’ home, eating their parents’ food, and enjoying the warmth of their parents’ fireplace. It is, after all, the parents’ duty to take care of and provide for their children because they brought them into the world. And yet, the parents ask their son and daughter to do some chores and participate in the upkeep of the home. As the boy and girl get a little older, their father begins to take them with him to work, and shows them the family business. He teaches them how to run errands and how to go through the shop at the end of the day, to make sure the tools are put away, the rooms straightened, the lights turned off, and the doors locked. As the children mature even more, and continue to gain more and more of their father’s trust, he gives them more and more responsibilities, dealing with the workers, hearing their complaints, helping to solve problems, and treating the employees fairly. Eventually, after years, the day comes when their father brings them into his office and turns the entire business over to them. It is theirs to run and manage, and enjoy the profits it produces. I ask you, did the children earn this? Did all of their efforts while growing up put their father in their debt, so that eventually—out of fairness—he had to give them his company?
I repeat, when it comes to spiritual matters, we are not earning anything. Instead, God is preparing us to receive Eternal life, which is an inestimable treasure, worth so much more than any work we could ever do down here to equal its value.
Next week we will talk about the true nature of blessings. :)
(to be continued…)