Obedience……My favorite subject.
Forever, my favorite scripture has been 1st Nephi 3:7,
I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded. For I know the Lord giveth no commandment unto the children of men, save He shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which He commandeth them.
I think this has been my favorite scripture because the desire of my heart is to do what the Lord asks of me. I often know what He wants me to do. I am just doubtful that I can really do that. (In my experience, the Lord asks a lot of me! Probably because He is trying to prepare me for something I am as yet, far away from obtaining!) So I love this scripture because it reminds me, in simple terms, that if the Lord has asked it of me, He will also prepare a way for me to accomplish what He is asking of me. This scripture promises me that if the Lord asks it, I can do it, because He will help me.
I have been told that I can accomplish any goal that I set for myself with the help of my Father in Heaven. I still have trouble believing that sometimes. I try to set realistic goals, achievable goals. But sometimes they seem impossible and I have to really fight to remind myself that I have the ability within, with His help, to accomplish my goal.
Recently, the Lord has been asking something of me I have felt was completely impossible and I have pretty much had a major attitude about Him asking it of me. I intellectually know it is possible for me to do what He asks, because of the above scripture and because He is omniscient and omnipowerful and if He really want to accomplish something, even in my life, I have the faith and knowledge in His ability for Him to accomplish His objectives. The line I have been fighting, is bending my will to His, my choosing to obedient follow His request. I have been fighting the bend for a few years, not in outright rejection of His request, but just ‘I really don’t know how that can be possible’ or ‘how I can possibly do what you request’.
I make feeble efforts to comply. I pray for help. I fast for help. I continue to try, though I feel like I am failing more than I am succeeding and my measuring efforts show that is the case. Within the last couple of months, I have really begun to embrace the desire for obedience in this area. It has taken all of this time and effort to bend my will to want to do what He is asking, and not just to say ‘That is so hard! Why are you asking that of me?!!’ which is where I have been for more months than I care to share.
This morning, I read Elder Hales conference address, ‘If Ye Love Me, Keep My Commandments.’
In his address, Elder Hales discusses three ‘types’ of obedience. The first he calls ‘natural man’s obedience’ where we “disobediently reject God’s law in favor of our wisdom or our desires or even popularity.” The second he calls ‘selective obedience’ where we “claim to love God and honor God while picking and choosing which of His commandments and teachings—and the teachings and counsel of His prophets—[we] will fully follow.” The third type, I will discuss in a moment.
Being a student of morality, I have studied the theories of men in regard to why and how people obey. It has been too many years since those college classes and I do not want to take the time to dig them out this morning so I will not share who said what, since I cannot tie specific theories to specific people. But I can generally remember some of the categories. One was obedience so as not to get in trouble—a person obeys only because they do not want the consequence of disobedience. This would be the category of those spirits who came to earth to receive bodies, only because they knew Lucifer’s plan was going to leave them without one. Cain may fall into that category, maybe Laman and Lemuel. It is not obedience out of love, or because one wants to be obedient. It is simply to avoid the consequences of not being obedient. A child who obeys simply because they do not want to be spanked, or sent to their room, or whatever the consequence of the behavior would be would fall into this category as well.
Another category of obedience is because you want to be like someone else. You choose behavior that identifies you with another person or group. If you choose positive role models, you have positive behaviors, but if you choose negative ones, then you have negative behaviors. Your behavior simply mimics a person or group you admire. When teenagers are trying to define their identity, many will do so through mimicking another person or group. There is no internal regulation of behavior other than to appear like those they are trying to be like.
Then there is behavior based in knowledge of right or wrong. Internal compassing begins here. Situations and behaviors are defined by the individual’s belief in their right-ness or wrong-ness. Based on a person’s education, experience, teaching, or examples, morality at this level is extremely eclectic (different based on each individual person).
There may be other steps in between, but eventually morality is based in love, love of other people (what helps and hurts them) and love of God. Morality at this level comes because one wants to do what is best for others and because of what they believe God wants them to do.
As I think about these various ideas, it is interesting to me that Elder Hales, a prophet of God, labels one of his types of obedience as ‘natural man obedience’ –rejecting God’s laws in favor of our own desires or wisdom. Natural man obedience can be practiced at any one of the ‘theories of men’ stages of obedience, except maybe the love of men and love of God one. We can be obedient in one or two areas of our lives, (go to church, say our prayers) and be completely disobedient in another area (love our fellow men). Is that crazy?? Obedience and its intended change of heart, for different areas of our lives, can be at different levels. This is where Elder Hales ‘selective obedience’ comes in. We pick and choose what levels and what teachings we will be obedient to. We may be obeying all of the laws of the land and still not show kindness or charity to our neighbors or family members (but still not be breaking any of the laws).
Elder Hales third type of obedience is ‘the Savior’s obedience,’ spiritually mature obedience “motivated by true love for Heavenly Father and His son. When we willingly obey, as the Savior did…….”
Elder Hales says this:
As our understanding of obedience deepens, we recognize the essential role of agency. When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed three times to His Father in Heaven, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” God would not override the Savior’s agency…..
In my current fight in obedience, that is where I have been struggling. It helped me to realize that the Savior would have really like it if the atonement could have been completed ‘some other way’ than what He needed to experience. But His will was always in submission to the desires of the Father. It has taken me months and months and months to be willing to say OK I will do that, even though I do not want to. But PLEASE help me because I am struggling to do what I need to do to be obedient. I have been struggling to bend my will and submit my agency to allow the Father to help accomplish His desire in my life.
Part of Elder Hales discussion will help motivate me to continue along my path.
In choosing whether we will obey, it is always helpful to remember the consequences of our choices. Did Lucifer and his followers understand the consequences of choosing to reject Heavenly Father’s plan? If so, why did they make such a terrible choice? We might ask ourselves a similar question: why do any of us choose to be disobedient when we know the eternal consequences of sin? The scriptures provide an answer: the reason Cain and some of the children of Adam and Eve chose to disobey is because ‘they loved Satan more than God.’
I do not want to be counted in that group with any category in my life. I do not want to love Satan more than God. None of my sins are worth that to me. Part of my current resistance, is knowing the process will be hard, harder than anything I have ever done. Knowing that, the Lord is asking me to submit to it. That has been a true and honest struggle for me. Personally, I really like it better when the trial blind sides you so you are already in the middle of it before you really understand what you are dealing with. Maybe that isn’t true, I do manage better when I know it is coming and I know it is the Lord’s will but not knowing does not require my consent. I guess this is just one of the places where the Lord will not override my agency and is asking me to be on board with His program. So much bending!!! I am a strong-willed person!
Elder Hales goes on to say, “Our love of the Savior is the key to Savior-like obedience.” So today, like other days, I am fasting for ‘Savior-like obedience.’
Wish me luck! No, just PRAY for my continued obedience over time and my willingness to continue to bend.