[Given by Kyle Du Moulin in April 2019 Stake Conference.]
For my talk today, I have felt inspired to speak on the topic of obeying the commandments of God and how this can be possible for all of us. Obedience to God’s commandments is a subject of importance to all of God’s children. In order to obey the commandments, we must understand what sin is and from what source we can obtain power to overcome it. Perhaps you are presently struggling with a sin or many sins, which, through your best efforts you have not been able to overcome. Today I will address what we must do to keep all of God’s commandments and overcome sin and even addictions.
There is perhaps no counsel more frequently given in the scriptures than that associated with obeying the commandments. Our obedience to the laws that God has implemented is critical to obtaining eternal life. As a consequence of the Fall, all of mankind was placed in a condition where we can know good from evil, and, through our agency, be given the chance to choose between them. Because of our fallen state, a conflict wages within each one of us who seeks to obey the commandments. This conflict is between the natural man or woman and our better self—our spirit—which desires to do God’s will.
One of the great challenges of mortality is learning to yield the desires of our natural state to the will of God. In order for our will to be swallowed up in the will of the Father, we must experience a mighty change of heart. As we experience this change of heart, the conflict between our natural state and our desires to obey God’s commandments will be resolved. In the process of time, we will be able to obey the commandments and our desires to commit sin will diminish and ultimately be overcome. In order to remove the turmoil and suffering caused to those who struggle to obey the commandments, the desire to commit sin must die within us.
Our desire to commit sin is a symptom of a deeper problem. This problem is a heart that is not yet fully converted unto the Lord. When seeking to overcome sin in our own lives, we must treat the sinner, not the sin. In order to alter a behavior that is contrary to God’s will, we must get to the root of the problem. When the true problem—in this case an individual’s heart—has been truly changed and fixed, then the corresponding destructive behaviors will cease on their own. The process of being changed from our natural state is called being “born again.” In the third chapter of the Gospel of John (verse five), Jesus teaches: “… Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Your ability to overcome temptation is directly linked to the health and condition of your spirit. The health and condition of your spirit is determined by the amount of light you bring into your life. The presence of the Holy Ghost is a source of spiritual light and has the power to overcome darkness and evil. Anything that reduces our light will weaken our ability to overcome evil. Perhaps you may find there is an absence of light in your own life. To illustrate the relationship between darkness and light, I use an analogy: if I were to walk into a dark room and turn on the light, there would never be an occasion where light would fail to overcome darkness.
Our need to be under the constant influence and direction of the Holy Ghost is greater than ever. President Russell M. Nelson has stated: “The assaults of the adversary are increasing exponentially, in intensity and variety.” In the most recent conference, the prophet also stated, “The battle with sin is real. The adversary is quadrupling his efforts to disrupt testimonies and impede the work of the Lord. He is arming his minions with potent weapons to keep us from partaking of the joy and love of the Lord.” If the adversary is quadrupling his efforts, then we must at least quadruple ours. Anything that diminishes our ability to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost will likewise diminish our capacity to obey the commandments and bear our temptations. Even small things which slowly erode our spiritual strength can, over time, have dramatic effects and eternal consequences.
The presence of the Holy Ghost is a blessing from heaven bestowed upon us because of our desires toward change and right action. We increase in our light as the Holy Ghost dwells in us. This light is received line upon line, precept upon precept. For it is by small means that great change is brought to pass. Some of the things which will allow you to bring the Holy Ghost into your life include: diligently seeking and hungering after the word of God as found in the scriptures and teachings of modern day prophets; meaningful prayers filled with faith; real effort to align our lives with God’s will; and regularly attending the temple, for it is in the ordinances of the temple that the powers of Godliness are manifest. President Russell M. Nelson said in the 2018 General Conference: “In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”
We must experience the cumulative effect of regularly and consistently doing those things which bring greater light into our lives. Our righteous desires and correct actions will invite God’s spirit which will enter into our hearts and sanctify us. Through this sanctifying process, we will be made into a new creature. But this change is dependent on the condition and desires of our heart. Just as hard and dry clay cannot be molded into new forms, likewise a hardened heart cannot be altered. Before a mighty change can be wrought in us, we must offer for a sacrifice a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Jesus Christ spoke of this shortly before His appearance to the Nephites. He said:
“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.”
It is by the grace of Jesus Christ that the will of the flesh will be overcome as the Holy Ghost dwells in us. I call the effects of this process, “living in a constant state of grace.” Another term for this is, “taking Christ’s yoke upon us.” For without the sustaining grace of Jesus Christ, we have no power to overcome the effects of the Fall.
The Apostle Paul spoke of the power we can access in Christ, which will allow the will of our spirit to overcome the will of our flesh:
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Romans 8:9-10)
In the Parable of the True Vine, Jesus Christ teaches us that without Him we have no power to do good works. He said:
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”
As we seek a daily portion of God’s spirit to abide with us, and offer for a sacrifice to the Lord a broken heart and a contrite spirit, in the process of time we will be blessed with a new heart. As this change occurs within us, our actions, our words, our thoughts, and the desires of our heart will be brought into alignment with God’s will. And the day will come when we can say, as did the Nephites when King Benjamin gave his address, that because of the Spirit of the Lord, a mighty change has been wrought in our hearts, and we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
What do we think of the concept of surrender? It doesn’t sound overly attractive at first glance, yet I continue to come across references to its importance for our well-being. And I agree with them. Life would be better if most of us would surrender a little more often. Let me give three examples.
First, surrender is a well-established, critical element of addiction recovery. If you think addiction recovery is irrelevant to you (“I’m not an addict!”), I would ask you to reconsider. King Benjamin asked the question, “Are we not all beggars?” And, of course, the answer is that none of us may be saved without the Savior and so we are, indeed, all beggars. Similarly, most of us have habits we struggle to break or particular vices we return to again and again, even if smallish. Are we not all addicts? Anyway, go google “addiction surrender,” and you’ll quickly find things like this:
“Surrender is the foundation and ground upon which recovery is built.” This is because many addictions result from fighting (by seeking relief from some emotional pain through chemical or sexual experience) and one cannot continue that fight and win. Hence the first of the twelve steps from AA is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” And the third step is, “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” Surrender. All of us should surrender also.
Second, I’ve been reading a lot lately about anxiety. Also been listening to Claire Weekes discuss her theory about “Pass-Through Panic.” She talks about “first fear” and “second fear,” with first fear being normal, but in many of us immediately compounded by second fear when we fear the first fear and trick ourselves into a panic by fearing fear. The “panic trick” is “the idea that a person is just barely holding himself together, and that if he relaxes his grip even a little, he will fall apart. In fact, it’s his struggling to keep a grip that maintains the anxiety!”
The answer—or, at least, Dr. Weekes’ answer (but it strikes me as valid because it matches my own first-hand experience so well)—is to understand and accept the frightful feelings we experience and to surrender to them (rather than fight them) by letting them pass through us as little hindered as possible. It’s a bit like having more success in an encounter with a bear by playing dead than by taking on the bear. Surrender leads to a better outcome.
Lastly, and most importantly, is the idea of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. The Savior will, in fact, save us, but He won’t save everyone—and perhaps not even you and I if we don’t qualify. To qualify, we must have the sacrifice he requires from us: that of a broken heart and contrite spirit. If that does not accompany the covenants that can bind us to Him, then they won’t bind us to Him. Having a broken heart and contrite spirit means surrendering my will to His. It is giving up on trying to live life my way on my terms and surrendering to His will. It is recognizing when my will does not match His and then humbly and willingly accepting not just defeat in that singular contest of wills, but a sincere willingness to never engage in the contest again.
When a person commits a significant sin, he can fight against God by covering, excusing, justifying, hiding, continuing, getting angry, etc. Or he can surrender, by becoming transparent, admitting wrong, and giving into God’s way of living—not just in areas related to the particular sin—not just by ceasing that sin—but by trying to align his whole life with God’s will. He must surrender the losing battle of trying to succeed his own way.
The Savior never taught us to be someone else’s doormat. He never taught us that we should forgo exercising our precious gift of agency. He did teach us, though, that we should choose to surrender our will in exchange for His will. He promises us everything—literally—in exchange. “Everything” includes a great deal of happiness.
Surrender, when done right and sincerely, is, in fact, a key element of living after the manner of happiness.
Does every prayer get answered? What does it even mean for a prayer to be answered?
Matthew 7:7 suggests (rather clearly) that every prayer is answered. Arguably, it even suggests that every prayer is answered favorably and might even imply to some that all prayers are answered immediately. At least, it says nothing about answers ever being “no” – nor about our having to wait for them. The Savior said:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
This same passage is similarly repeated in Luke 11. However, before going there, I would like to state one emphatic belief of mine: every prayer is answered.
However, I do not believe that every prayer is answered the way we want. We do not believe that God is like the genie in the bottle, there to grant us every wish exactly when and how we like – or even at all in some cases. Some answers are “yes.” Some answers are “no.” Some answers are “not right now; let’s hold off on that one.” And some answers are “you need to struggle through this one on your own for your own benefit; I’m going to let you do that.” You could come up with your own variations on those themes, but that’s how I see it. In fact, it troubles me whenever I hear someone say their prayer was answered, when they say it in a way that suggests that the proof of it being answered is that they got what they wanted – which in turn suggests that their prayer would have been unanswered if they didn’t get what they wanted. I think we need to be careful to never suggest that “answered” prayers are comprised only of those whose answers we like.
Back to Luke 11. This is an interesting chapter! It begins with one of Jesus’ disciples asking him to teach them to pray. The Lord responds with what we know as The Lord’s Prayer and eventually gets into words similar to those in Matthew 7, quoted above. But, interestingly, between those two things he asks his audience a question involving “importuning,” which, according to Google, means “to ask someone pressingly and persistently for or to do something.”
“Keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking…”
Let me quote Luke 11:5-10. However, I’m going to quote the International Standard, rather than the King James, version. (The everyday language of the ISV may be startling to some Latter-day Saints, but I find it insightful sometimes to review other translations of the New Testament.) It says:
Then he told them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, let me borrow three loaves of bread. A friend of mine on a trip has dropped in on me, and I don’t have anything to serve him.’ Suppose he answers from inside, ‘Stop bothering me! The door is already locked, and my children are here with us in the bedroom. I can’t get up and give you anything!’ I tell you, even though that man doesn’t want to get up and give him anything because he is his friend, he will get up and give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. So I say to you: Keep asking, and it will be given you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened for you, because everyone who keeps asking will receive, and the person who keeps searching will find, and the person who keeps knocking will have the door opened.”
The part I italicized is rather interesting. It is a completely different translation than the KJV because it adds in the “keep asking/searching/knocking” part, which doesn’t seem to exist in the Greek text at all. I’m definitely not suggesting the ISV is a more literal translation of the text. Nevertheless, isn’t it expressing what we believe? And isn’t that, in fact, what the Savior is teaching? Verse 8 in the KJV says, “I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity [his “pressingly and persistently” asking] he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.” (Emphasis added again.) The Savior is teaching that receiving doesn’t always immediately follow asking; nor finding seeking.
That teaching might remind us also of a parable the Savior teaches seven chapters later – a parable which begins with an instructive preamble!
“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.”
Now that last word is a little confusing, as is the comparison of God to an “unjust judge.” Nevertheless, the teaching seems unmistakable: men and women ought to pray repeatedly over the long term and never give up praying, because, even though answers will come “speedily” when they do come, they won’t come necessarily immediately. Some answers take time. And sometimes the answer is “no” and sometimes the answer is “wait” and sometimes the answer is “you’re on your own.”
Blessings, in real but not pre-specified forms, always follow obedience quickly (see Mosiah 2:24 ). Prayers, however, are not always answered the way we wish. Nor are they always answered the way we wish without consistent “importuning.”
What, then, should we do about our frustrations over our prayers not being answered when and how we want? The same thing we should do when our prayers are answered exactly when and how we like: be humble and submissive; maintain a broken heart and a contrite spirit; trust in the Lord and wait on Him. Getting impatient and angry with God will not result in happiness. Waiting on Him with faith and submissiveness, however, is critical to living after the manner of happiness!