Pages

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Gratitude Talk

I gave this talk in sacrament meeting on November 9. I'm strapped for time so please forgive any awkward formatting or wording--this was written to be read aloud.

Gratitude

Today I’m going to share three principles of gratitude that we can find in the Book of Mormon.

The first is:

1. Gratitude for “whatsoever things ye do receive.”

Alma 7:23

23 And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.

God’s work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of his children. That means that whatever he does is to teach us and guide us and persuade us to that end. Everything he does is for our benefit—even the things we don’t see as blessings in the moment.

It’s fly season in Doha, and though I’m not sure I’m to the point where I can say flies are a blessing I am grateful for, one did teach me a lesson this week. A fly got into my car somehow, and started pinging against my driver’s side window. The fly wanted to get out. It was a good desire, and I wanted to give it to him. So I started to open my window, but the sudden movement of the glass scared the fly, so he zoomed to the opposite side of the car.

Right then the Spirit told me: this is what people do when God tries to give them what they want most.

Ironically, instead of receiving my gift of freedom with gratitude, the fly fled from the exact blessing he wanted. How often are we the same? We pray for greater truth, spiritual development, to overcome a weakness, or an answer, and God sends us the exact experience, person, book, or idea that will lead us to the blessing we seek, but we reject it out of fear. Fear of being corrected, fear of being in pain, fear of losing something important. Perfect love casteth out all fear. Love God, trust God, and be grateful for whatever he sends you---ask God what you should be learning in your current situation, and be grateful for the chance to learn and grow and be tested. He always has our best interests at heart. He can make everything work together for our good.

2. Gratitude for the truths of God involves receiving and asking for more.

2 Nephi 28
30 For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.

Interestingly, God likes when we ask him for more and more and more truth. He wants to bless us with all the light and knowledge he possesses, but we have to ask and receive. What does it mean to continually receive God’s wisdom? It is mulling over the same Sunday school lessons year after year? Or, is it incorporating each new level of truth into our lives, then asking God, “What next?”

Alma 12: 9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

Men of God are not permitted to reveal all of God’s mysteries to us. God reserves that right for Himself. You will not hear everything you need to know at church or conference. You have to ask the Lord to personally tutor you. And you will receive “according to the heed and diligence” you give to His teachings.

Alma continues…

10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

In full! The scriptures contain several examples of people who received all the mysteries of God—He wants the same for us. The Lord is no respecter of persons, that means you can qualify for the same blessings.

11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.

The chains of hell are ignorance! You are either moving towards the Lord or away from Him. You're never standing still. You are growing or atrophying.

3. Gratitude should be rooted in truth and humility.

In the Book of Mormon, I came across two passages that both expressed strong gratitude to God. I was struck by the contrast between the two, which were given by two very different groups of people.

The first I’ll talk about was a prayer given by the Zoramites. I’ll read part of it:

Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers;

but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.

But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell;

for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.

And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.

Let’s go over what we know about the Zoramites—they were an apostate, idolatrous branch of Nephites that denied Christ, rejected the poor, and built synagogues where they would stand up every week and talk about how righteous they were compared to everyone else. Alma also tells us that their hearts were set upon gold, silver, and fine goods, and that their hearts were lifted up unto great boasting and pride (Alma 31). These really aren’t people we want to have much in common with.

But before we dismiss them as so different from us, remember that these people were religiously devout enough to meet together regularly to publicly reaffirm their beliefs in something that sounds very much like a kind of testimony meeting, build and maintain houses of worship, have a dress code for worship services, be alarmed at Alma’s interfering missionary work, and ultimately expel those who believed Alma’s challenges to the doctrines of their rulers, priests, and teachers after undertaking a secret survey campaign. These people clearly took their religion very seriously.

The Zoramites were grateful to God, but their gratitude was based in a lie about their standing before Him. Their gratitude was actually thinly-disguised pride. For all their material successes and religious observances and declarations of immunity from going astray, they were consumed by, in the words of Alma, “gross wickedness.”

Now let’s talk about the second expression of gratitude. This one was given by King Lamoni. Ammon preached the gospel to the Lamanite King Lamoni, who was converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ which contributed to thousands of his people also repenting and becoming Christians as well. As an army of hostile Lamanites is preparing to attack his people—who have made no effort to prepare to defend themselves because the idea of violence and bloodshed is so abhorrent to them--here is what King Lamoni says to them (Alma 24:7-10):

I thank my God, my beloved people, that our great God has in goodness sent these our brethren, the Nephites, unto us to preach unto us, and to convince us of the traditions of our wicked fathers.

And behold, I thank my great God that he has given us a portion of his Spirit to soften our hearts, that we have opened a correspondence with these brethren, the Nephites.

 And behold, I also thank my God, that by opening this correspondence we have been convinced of our sins, and of the many murders which we have committed.

What a difference! King Lamoni is expressing his profound gratitude for the men who persuaded them to see the truth of their wicked traditions, convinced them of their sin, and identified his people as murderers. There’s no pride here, no smugness at being special or chosen, no comparisons to or vilifying of others. Just immense humility, relief, and gratitude.

How many of us thank God for the people who point out our sins, whether it’s a leader, spouse, parent, friend, or child? How many of us praise the Lord because he’s sent people to call us to repentance? Do we praise the greatness of God for chastening us? Do we have soft hearts when confronted by our wickedness? Or, do we delight in easy, vain teachings that tell us how incredible we are, how chosen we are, how we’re more righteous than any generation before? Listen to people who tell you to repent, because that will move you closer to God.

He continues: And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.

King Lamoni thanks God for the chance to repent and for the precious forgiveness that’s been granted. He thanks God for taking away their guilt through Jesus’ sacrifice.

I’ve grown up with the idea that the ability to repent is just a given, something I’m entitled to, but I love how King Lamoni doesn’t take anything for granted. He’s grateful to be saved from ignorance and sin, even though it brought immense struggles and sacrifice for his family and people. He’s grateful that an all-powerful God would be merciful enough to provide a Savior and a means to repent. It really is so amazing.

What is the difference between the Zoramites and King Lamoni and his people?

Let’s look at a story from the New Testament for the answer. It’s in Luke 7:

36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat.
37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,
38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.
41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

The more we recognize our need for Jesus Christ, the more we will be truly grateful for his life and sacrifice, the more we will love him and keep his commandments.

When we recline in the comfort of our self-proclaimed righteousness or institutional purity we fail to acknowledge the massive debt we owe to Jesus Christ. How can you be grateful for something you never thought you needed that much?

No unclean thing can enter heaven. We are just as much in need of the Lord’s grace as any murderer, adulterer, or apostate. The standard of salvation is not regular temple attendance, anything in the “For the Strength of Youth Pamphlet”, the length of your sleeves, the number of digits on your tithing slip, or how much you admire the man at the pulpit. The standard is perfection, and none of us can measure up without the grace of Jesus.

Alma said to his son:   (Alma 38)

13 Do not pray as the Zoramites do, for ye have seen that they pray to be heard of men, and to be praised for their wisdom.
14 Do not say: O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy—yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times.

I’m not promoting wallowing in shame or hating yourself for being a sinner at all. What I would like to encourage you to do is go to God with humility and ask Him what your standing is before Him. I never thought to do that for the first 27 years of my life because I assumed I knew the answer. I was baptized, confirmed, endowed, sealed, full tithe payer, temple recommend holder, Ensign subscriber, a pretty consistent visiting teacher, and a generally nice-ish person.

But then I asked, and the answer was not what I thought it would be. The course of my spiritual life since then has been harrowing as the Lord has stripped me of the pride of certainty. In at least one way I have become as a little child in that I claim to know very little. And as the Lord has allowed me to discover my weakness and my ignorance and my sin and the lies that I love because they serve my ego instead of my spirit, I have become more and more reliant on Him, more and more aware of the gulf between me and heaven that can only be breached by his glory—I have never felt so grateful because I have never felt so weak when faced with the idea of enduring this existence and the eternity beyond it without his light and mercy.
           
I’d like to finish with my own expression of gratitude. I thank my God for the Book of Mormon that guides us to Christ and reveals our weakness so that we may repent. I thank my God for giving me, a gentile with no claim to his covenant, a chance to partake of the blessings reserved for his people. I thank my God for His mercy and patience in teaching me that I am weak so that I can learn to be strong in Him.  I thank my God for the fellowship I share with these people—I ask that He will please forgive us and give us the time we need to repent and the humility to acknowledge our blindness. I also thank my God, yea my great God for Jesus and his perfect plan of redemption. I thank my God for sending a perfect being to love and teach me and bring me up the mountain of the Lord step by step. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Friday, March 9, 2018

The Irony of God's Love

by Nicky Smith

Through life we all develop a void within us. At the root of this void is a desire to be loved. Everyone wants love and in fact, we all need love. We are made this way. However, the only way to fill this void permanently in us is through obtaining the love of God. 

While some live their lives unaware of this void, many may sense that there is an emptiness that needs to be filled, but few know how to fill it. When we do not know how to fill the void through obtaining God's love, we turn to others around us to help fill us with love. However, when we turn to others or the world, we are filling our void through artificial means. These ways may include such things as wanting others to accept us and our life decisions, or wanting others to stroke our ego (expressing how beautiful, smart, or accomplished we are). Some seek to fill the void by accumulating material possessions or constantly seeking for better job opportunities hoping their accomplishments will help them feel fulfilled. Others try fill the void through artificial versions of intimacy. Some try to control their environment or the people around them in order to fill the hole inside. Others abuse substances or food to fill them. We may also seek to fill it through feeling loved and accepted in various good God-given relationships, whether it be a parent, child, or spouse. You can become aware of this void if the relationship is overly intense or if you feel like you follow them about emotionally like a puppy dog, where their love and acceptance creates happiness in you and their lack of love and acceptance leads to you feeling empty and insecure. I'm suggesting there is a difference between needing another's love and being grateful that another loves us. Although feeling loved by another is a good thing, needing another's love and acceptance to fulfill us is not good, because it is never enough to replace the love of God in us.

Almost everyone uses at least one of these things as a replacement for feeling God's love and acceptance of us, but after getting a "fix" and feeling loved, accepted, or understood, the void slowly reappears and again we are left feeling worthless, unloved, lonely, misunderstood, unaccepted, insecure in relationships and about our life choices, and so on. When we turn to the world and those around us to fill the void, the void is only filled temporarily. Counterfeit versions of love and acceptance never fill the inner need we have for God's love for very long. Furthermore, they act as a replacement of God's love and when we are seeking after these things, we are not seeking after God's love and acceptance as fully as we should. However, when we have obtained God's love and acceptance, we will not feel lonely, misunderstood, and insecure, because God's love for us fills our void and the lack of love and understanding of those around us do not compete. 

God is Love
God's love manifested in many, many ways. Some of the more commonly understood and accepted manifestations of his love is through receiving counsel and truth. Other times we may obtain comfort from God. Sometimes we may feel the abundance of his love. I have felt it on a few occasions. The feeling of God's love for us is something that is beyond description. It is far more than any love you might feel from another person. 

God's supreme characteristic is love (1 John 4:7-8). I have come to learn that everything he does and allows us to experience is an expression of his incredible love for us. In fact, everything he does and allows is evidence of the greatest amount of love he has for us. Any deviation from what he does for us would be less love than that. This is why God is love. 

Now, John wrote that the more we come to know God, the more we can feel God's love. 
7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. (1 John 4; emphasis added)
John also explained that we come to know God through becoming more like him. Thus, the more we become like God, the more we can feel of his love. 
4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. 
15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2; emphasis added)
Eventually we can get to the point where we are filled with his love and we know we are accepted by him. This is not just for a moment in time, but something that fills us and stays with us. It permanently fills the void we feel in us (unless we sin or move away from God's will, whereby we will feel that emptiness in whatever way it manifests again). However, prior to this point, as we follow the narrow path into his presence, God in his grace and mercy allows us to periodically feel of this love, until we can one day be filled with it. 

The Irony
There is irony in God's love. Irony is something that occurs in the opposite way in which you would expect. God's love is ironic because it often occurs in the opposite way in which you would expect or even desire. One very important aspect of God's love that is often forgotten is his chastening. Paul wrote:
5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. (Hebrews 12; emphasis added; see also Proverbs 3:11-13)
Each of us have weaknesses and struggles which prevent us from having a pure heart. These things separate us from God. God desperately wants us to be able to abide in his presence, but we have to have a pure heart and clean hands (see Matthew 5:8; Psalm 24:4; Isaiah 59:2). John said that our fellowship with Christ can only happen as we walk in the light, being cleansed of all sin. (See this post on walking in the light.) Walking the narrow path always involves rooting out our sins, weaknesses, and false beliefs and this is almost always painful and involves suffering. 

God helps us with this process of becoming pure through chastening. This chastening takes on various forms: Sometimes it is through his words, while other times it is through the experiences he allows us to have. Through his chastisement, he aims to help us remove the spiritual disease that exists in us so that we can comfortably and confidently be in his presence. This chastisement is mostly always painful, just as performing surgery to remove a cancer would be painful and unpleasant. It is aimed at helping us see things as they are and develop humility, and uproot the false beliefs and weaknesses in us. (See this post on uprooting our weaknesses and false beliefs through developing humility.)

Some may proclaim that God would never intentionally do anything to hurt us, but I propose that God allows us to feel pain so that we can get rid of anything that is a stumbling block in our way to come back into his presence. Thus, every single difficult experience we have is God helping us overcome something preventing us from being in his presence. Think of Christ asking the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions. He didn't want to remove that part of his heart that was filled with the love of riches, but Christ asking him to get rid of his riches was Christ's way of loving him. I have come to learn that love isn't always what we think it is and there are times when an act that can seem unkind is in fact loving. Coming to know God more enables us to better understand what is truly loving and what is not. 

These painful experiences allow us to understand Christ's suffering (see 1 Peter 4:1,13-14). When we have "fellowship with his suffering" (see Philippians 3:10), it is then that we are able to better feel and comprehend God's love for us. In essence, it is through our suffering that we can more fully taste of his love for us. Paul wrote,
8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.
 (Philippians 3; emphasis added)
While the greatest love is manifested when a man lays down his life for another, Jesus' suffering and death is a manifestation of his infinite love for us (John 15:13; John 3:16). John wrote:
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (1 John 1; emphasis added)
16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3; emphasis added)
It is through the laying down of our lives for others (see this post on laying down our lives for others) that we can perceive and understand God's love for us. It is this that gives us fellowship with his suffering. It is then that we experience his love for us to the greatest degree. This is what fills the void each of us have. 

Recently I was led by the Spirit to read Psalm 23. It is such a oft-quoted psalm that I've never paid too much attention to it, but the day I read it, it took on new meaning for me. I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by a difficult experience and as I read this psalm I felt comforted in what the Spirit helped me understand. 
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Jesus is our Shepherd. Like a shepherd who cares for his sheep, Jesus cares so deeply about us. When we allow him to lead us, we can and will get to a point where all our needs are supplied. Any need for love and acceptance is filled by him. 
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He will lead us to a place where we can feel his rest (green pastures) and be filled with his truth (water).
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (Psalm 23)
However, this requires that we follow him along the paths of righteousness. Although these paths lead to our soul being restored (our void filled), these paths also always lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. We cannot walk the paths of righteousness without deep suffering that feels like death, because in fact, through this suffering we are required to die to self (see this post of dying to self).

To many, it would seem unloving to lead someone through the valley of the shadow of death, but it is only through walking through this valley that we can come to know God and his love for us. It is in this valley that we obtain a fellowship with his suffering. 

Another psalm that gives a similar message is Psalm 84. 
5 Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them.6 Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. 
7 They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God. (Psalm 84)
Baca speaks of tears and weeping. In other words, Baca refers to the valley of the shadow of death. As we go through that valley of death, we can choose to allow ourselves to be filled with God's love and truth as we sanctify ourselves in our suffering. The aim is that we turn that valley of death into a valley of learning and the Lord's rest. 

Job Experiencing God's Love
Job is a man who was very righteous, yet God allowed him to suffer. It is safe to say that Job went through the valley of Baca. One might ask why God would allow Job to experience this terrible suffering. I believe it was through his suffering that Job's faith increased to such an extent that he was able to enter the presence of the Lord. 
1 Then Job answered the Lord, and said,
2 I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.
3 Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
4 Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.
5 I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.
6 Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42; emphasis added)
It was through Job's trials that he could get to the point where he could be in the Lord's presence. For this reason, when God allowed him to suffer, God was showing Job the greatest possible love he had for him. 

Conclusion
As we willingly walk through the valley of death, experiencing great trials of sorrow and suffering, we can use these experiences to sanctify us, knowing that God allows us to have these specific experiences as a manifestation of his incredible love for us. While some feel abandoned in their suffering, we can know that God is there and completely mindful of us. As we go through these experiences (and especially as we offer our lives as a sacrifice to God and others) and become sanctified, we can be filled with God's love. This love fills the emptiness each of us feel at times. We then no longer have the need to try fill the void by seeking love and acceptance from others. Although being loved by others is always a blessing, it will never fully and permanently fill us and seeking to fill it with anything other than the love of God makes it harder for us to be completed by his love, for it is only God's love for us that completes us. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Placing Yourself on the Altar For Another

by Nicky Smith

Recently I read the story of Abraham needing to go to Egypt to escape a famine. 

21 And I, Abraham, journeyed, going on still towards the south; and there was a continuation of a famine in the land; and I, Abraham, concluded to go down into Egypt, to sojourn there, for the famine became very grievous.
22 And it came to pass when I was come near to enter into Egypt, the Lord said unto me: Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon;
23 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say—She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise:
24 Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.
25 And it came to pass that I, Abraham, told Sarai, my wife, all that the Lord had said unto me—Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee
(Abraham 2; emphasis added)
I also read this same story in an apocryphal account of Genesis found on the Dead Sea scrolls and this statement, similar to verse 25 in Abraham 2, stuck out to me:
"...Say to them of me, 'He is my brother, and because of you I shall live, and because of you my life shall be saved.'"
It is very likely that Sarah would have been scared because she must have known the Pharaoh would take her as a wife and she knew all that that entailed with the new role. In doing this, she was willing to "give up her life" (not through death but the life she could live and the life she wanted) in order that Abraham could live. 

When I read these accounts this verse came into my mind:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
When we think of this verse in Jesus' sermon on love and obedience, it is not unusual to consider that Jesus is speaking about dying for others and that this is the greatest form of love we can give to another. However, the Spirit impressed upon my mind an expanded understanding of this verse. 

Sacrificing the Life You Want

Each of us have desires and things we want in our lives. These things may be a particular lifestyle, a specific type of marriage, a certain number of children, a particular career, and so on. We may also have goals we want to accomplish in our lives. All these things may be righteous, godly desires. Yet, God may ask us to sacrifice something in order for another to live. "Live" in this sense can refer to enabling someone to remain physically alive, but most often actually means enabling someone to spiritually live, or overcome a weakness or sin and draw closer to God than they otherwise could without your sacrifice. In other words, God may ask you to give up something huge in order for another to return to God. 

In Revelation 12, it describes those who overcame Satan: "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." (Revelation 12:11) 
Those who are able to overcome Satan are those same people who are willing to lay down their lives. They aren't anxious about preserving their lives. As stated, this does not only refer to being willing to physically die, but being willing to give up everything you wished your life could be like. In the end, not loving your life unto death means that your life doesn't matter as much as surrendering completely to God. This requires we die to self. (See this post on the death of self.) God will then use our lives to benefit others and draw them closer to him, so they too can live. 


Like Sarah, Paul was willing to completely surrender to God and experience whatever might happen to him in order to minister to others and testify of Jesus:

22 And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:
23 Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.
24 But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20, emphasis added)
Jesus said that only those who do not love their lives (or who are willing to completely surrender everything) are his disciples. 
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14)
I recently thought about Isaac and why he was willing to give up his life. Paul, in referring to Abraham's faith, suggested that God raised Isaac from the dead as a result of that experience. 
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. (Hebrews 11)
It is amazing to me that he was willing to lay down his life so that his father, Abraham, could pass a test. (See this post for more details on Abraham passing his test.) His willingness to offer his life in this way showed that he did not "love his life unto death," but instead loved God and his father more than himself. Isaac, being a type or figure for Christ, exemplified Christ's love for his father.

When we offer our lives as a sacrifice for others, we need to make sure we are doing it at the Lord's request. Sometimes we can have in our minds the idea that the sacrifice we are offering is what God wants, but instead we are doing our own will. Our own will may seem very godlike and charitable, but when we are not doing God's will, we are doing our own. One of Satan's greatest tactics is to lead us to be distracted with things that really aren't God's will and we may think we are "laying down our lives" for God and others, when in reality we are laying down our lives for ourselves. 

The offering of this sacrifice is much like a mother who offers her body (and sometimes her life) to birth a child. Pregnancy is uncomfortable. Childbirth is painful. But, in losing her body, she gives life to another. Similarly, the sacrifice God may ask of us is never an easy thing to do. It's the kind of experience where you ask, "Is there any other way? Please take this bitter cup from me!" Then as God says, "There is no other way," we surrender everything because we love God and others. Then, just as a mother develops a deep abiding love for her child, the sacrificer develops greater love for the one they sacrificed. 

Outcomes For the Sacrificer
The offering of one's life, as Sarah and Isaac gave, is never solely given for the other to receive life. In fact, the experience has a dual purpose for the one offering the sacrifice. These outcomes can never be minimized because they are vital in the progression of the one offering the sacrifice. 

1. INCREASED FAITH. While Sarah's sacrifice enabled Abraham to physically live, she would have gained a lot through the experience too. Interestingly enough she went through this experience twice. The first time was with the Egyptian pharaoh (Genesis 12) and the second time was with King Abimelech (Genesis 20). Although we don't know the details of Sarah's subjective experience, it is likely in my mind that her faith in God increased after the first time, as she was preserved in miraculous ways. It is entirely possible that she obtained greater faith when she went through the experience a second time. 


Furthermore, as we rely on God through such an experience, he will give us promises which we can cling to as we offer that painful sacrifice. We can know that in the end we can obtain the blessings he promises us. During the sacrifice as we wait for the promised blessings, our faith is tried, but as we see those promises come to pass, our faith in God will grow. 

Elijah was told to go to Zarephath because God has commanded a widow to give him food (1 Kings 17:9). He found the woman and asked for water and bread. She said she had enough flour and oil to make a little cake herself and her son, but that she and her son were going to die due to not having any more food. She was then given a promise through Elijah that if she were willing to give up her last bread for Elijah she would not run out of food. She had faith and offered her food to Elijah (1 Kings 17:8-16). It is evident that this experience wasn't so much for Elijah, but was rather for the woman to increase her faith and rely on the promise God had given her, as she offered the last food she had to Elijah. 

2. SANCTIFICATION. Just as Christ was resurrected and Isaac obtained his life in a literal way, the sacrificer is able to draw closer to God through this experience, becoming a new creature. In some cases, the sacrificer may be given eternal life. Each of us have weaknesses, sins, and false beliefs we need to overcome, but through the offering of one's life for another, we are able to crucify an aspect of our flesh. We do not know in what way this sacrifice of Sarah's provided an opportunity for her to sanctify herself, but it is not unreasonable to consider that a lot of beliefs she had about marriage and womanhood may have been examined. This experience could very well have provided her an opportunity then to overcome some of her weaknesses.



3. EXPRESSION OF LOVE FOR GOD AND OTHERS. In the end, the experience is the ultimate expression of our love for God and the person for whom we are being sacrificed. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) We may not have that love when we first begin to offer that sacrifice, but as we go through that experience, our love for God and the other person develops and grows. Moses is another who gave up his life multiple times for others. He gave up living a comfortable lifestyle in the Egyptian palace, as well as his wife and children in order to lead the Israelites back to Canaan. Moses did this because he loved God and he loved the Israelites. 

If we are going to receive any of these intended blessings when asked to offer such a sacrifice, we need to offer that sacrifice willingly. (see 2 Corinthians 9:7)

For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. (Moroni 7:8)
If it is not done willingly, the sacrificer will not receive the intended blessings offered to them for giving that sacrifice. 

Outcomes For Those Receiving the Sacrifice 

As Jesus Christ sacrificed his life, he offered a prayer saying,
1 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:
2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17)
Jesus' sacrifice was so that we might lay hold on eternal life. Just as his sacrifice does not guarantee that everyone on earth automatically receives eternal life, the same is true of those who have another person sacrifice for them. In the case of the sacrifice being offered for spiritual life, the person being sacrificed for has the opportunity to repent or to reject the offering. Obtaining life is always based on repentance and surrendering to God. For instance, Isaac could have been willing to give up his life, but Abraham also had to be willing to give up his son too and completely surrender to God.  

There is an interesting story in the Book of Mormon of a group of people who offered their lives as a sacrifice for the Lamanites. They had made a covenant with God that they would never kill another being and as a result had buried their weapons of war. They would rather suffer death than break that covenant (Alma 24:19). The Lamanites prepared for battle against them with the hopes of destroying the Anti-Nephi-Lehis (Alma 24:20). We know that the Ant-Nephi-Lehis lay prostrate on the ground and praised God, not knowing the outcome, but trusting completely in God. After a large number of them were slaughtered, this led a great number of Lamanites to repent and give up their weapons for a life devoted to God (Alma 24:24-25). This is a great example of literally laying down one's life in order for others to have the opportunity to repent and turn to God.   


When we reject Jesus' sacrifice, we are condemned until we repent; similarly, those who do not repent and draw closer to God when another has been asked by God to sacrifice their lives are condemned until they do repent. It is a serious matter, especially given that another has sacrificed so much. 


God may ask you to sacrifice your life for another. Or, God may ask another to sacrifice their life for you so you can repent and overcome weaknesses. No matter the pain that comes from the situation, surrender to God. It is part of developing increased faith. It is part of sanctification. It is part of your walk back to God.