(Continued from last week…)
Practice makes progress; Jesus makes perfect.
One might wonder what today’s message has to do with Jesus making us perfect…but as I said a couple of weeks ago, it is necessary for us to try to remove any erroneous expectations we might have towards the Lord, in order that our faith in Christ and what He will do for us can be founded in the truth. :)
What man or woman could put the Lord in their debt? Can any of us rightfully say, ‘Lord, I kept this commandment, so You’ve got to come through for me on what I’m expecting!’ It’s true that Jesus has said: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82: 10). And He has also revealed through the Prophet Joseph: “…when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130: 21). But what did He mean by this? Can we really bind the Lord in what we want and in the timeframe we expect it? Can we force His hand? To me, that sounds like we’re pushing our own agenda rather than His?
Now, I realize that the Lord has made specific promises to those who keep specific commandments, and I think that’s what gives us this mentality of expectation, and even entitlement. But do we really understand what those promises are? For instance, I think many of us have assumed that if we pay our tithing and keep the Sabbath holy we will be prospered in temporal ways; and if we keep the World of Wisdom, we will have healthy bodies. The promises attached to those commandments appear to have that interpretation. However, you don’t have to live very long to discover that there are many Latter-day Saints who have faithfully paid their tithing and yet have still experienced great financial setbacks—some have suffered the loss of savings and property, some have watched their homes burn to the ground, and others have struggled in ongoing poverty. There are faithful Saints who have never taken a sip of alcohol in their life who have died from liver disease. There are others who have never put a cigarette to their lips who have died from lung cancer. There are those among us who have kept the Lord’s law of health from their childhood who now run and are weary, and who walk and are faint. There have been those among us who have honored their father and mother and yet their days were not long upon the land, which the Lord their God gave them.
Maybe we really don’t understand our Lord’s promises, or the prophetic language in which they are delivered.
King Benjamin, trying to assure his people how much the Lord was blessing them, said, “he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you” (Mosiah 2: 22-24). Now, in my experience, this cannot mean what I initially thought it meant. “He doth immediately bless you” cannot universally mean that we immediately see those blessings. But certainly a record is kept in heaven of the deeds of every person. Perhaps God is immediately blessing us in His determining or resolving to bless us in eternity; there will assuredly be blessings waiting for us, as treasures in heaven. But I, like every man, have not immediately seen all the blessings the Lord has determined to give to me for the keeping of His laws. Look at some of our great examples in history…Nephi was harshly treated by his wicked brothers, but would not murmur against the Lord, and yet remained tied up for four extremely difficult and painful days during that terrible storm at sea. Joseph was sold into Egypt by his brothers; he stayed faithful to God, even when betrayed and thrown into prison; he demonstrated great patience in prison, and yet he remained in prison still…for years! Job, even after all his afflictions came upon him, chose to bless God’s name and refused to turn against Him; and yet Job remained for quite a long while afterwards in his broken and pitiful condition. So, God doth not “immediately” bless us in the ways that we think.
What do all of these things mean? They mean that the Lord’s ways are not our ways. And if we’re not careful, that can get us into trouble. In our assuming certain things we could end up making incorrect judgments, about ourselves and others. We might see someone’s terrible problems and, like Job’s friends of old, we could charge each other foolishly. I have a friend whose brother stopped church activity because of something that happened on his mission. Some years later, he got cancer, and his father wrote him a letter saying, “See son, if you hadn’t turned away from God, he might not have struck you with this.” We think we know so much, and yet we are so consistently fools before God. But one thing is certain. God keeps His promises. His word is sure. If He says that we will be blessed for our obedience, then nothing will stop that from happening. It just might not be how or when we expect.
Now, we’re not the only ones who might not see the blessings we thought we would see in this life. Speaking of Noah, Abraham, and others of the early saints, the Apostle Paul said, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11: 13). So we see that many promised blessings are coming later.
Jeffrey R. Holland said: “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come” (Ensign, Nov. 1999).
Faith is not us thinking we can force the Lord’s hand. Faith is not making Him bless us. Faith is trusting that if He doesn’t bless us according to our request, that He still did the right thing for us. It’s trusting that whatever He does is right…and that His every choice is what is best for us as we are slowly, and surely being made perfect—transformed into Christ’s image.
(to be continued…)