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.


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.

1 comment:

  1. Important messages!
    Sometimes I imagine how a prophet like Alma would balance his messages in a modern context. We have a lot of samples of his preaching, and in most of them he spoke to relatively small audiences, sometimes just one son at a time, at most a single city at a time. To some people he delivered messages of assurance and praise mingled with a sort of general reminder to always repent (Helaman, Shiblon, the city of Gideon, etc.) while to others he delivered clear, unmitigated calls to repentance (Corianton, the city of Zarahemla, the city of Ammonihah, etc.). So if he were in the modern church and had to speak to all 15+ million members at once twice a year, what would the balance be? Surely some members are genuinely doing great and should be told, as the people in Gideon were, "I perceive that ye are in the paths of righteousness; I perceive that ye are in the path which leads to the kingdom of God; yea, I perceive that ye are making his paths straight." And there are also many who need to be told, as the people in Zarahemla were, "all ye that will persist in your wickedness, I say unto you that these are they who shall be hewn down and cast into the fire except they speedily repent." So would he try to cover both groups in a single talk? Would he switch between the two groups in different sessions? Would he deliver a doctrinal talk with a general reminder to everyone to repent?
    Not looking for a specific answer, these are just some musings brought up by this paragraph: "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."
    Regardless of how a prophet like Alma might choose to balance his message, we would all be wise to hear the call to repentance and say, "Lord, is it I?"


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