Sunday, May 18, 2008

Agency and Heartfelt Obedience

Today I learned something about how the Lord honors our free agency. I have a friend that is dating someone that is so in love with her and wants to marry her, but she's not completely sold on the idea. She's confused because she hasn't received any answers that she should marry him and he's apparently received more definite answers that marrying her is the right thing to do. A friend pointed out the fact that he is already decided on what he wants and therefore the Lord can confirm to him that he's made a good decision. She on the other hand, is undecided. Why would the Lord confirm an answer if she doesn't even know what she wants? She can't ask with faith unwavering because she hasn't made up her mind yet (James 1:5-6).
I think this principle can be applied to other areas of life, such as in repententing and receiving forgiveness. If we are going through the motions of repentance, but our hearts aren't in it and a clean life is not what we firmly desire, will the Lord really grant unto us forgiveness? We too are indecisive and wavering. Of coarse the Lord won't purify our lives and hearts if we are going through the steps of repentance but our hearts are still clinging to sin instead of longing for the peace of conscience that comes from being clean before the Lord. When we have this attitude we are as the people of Lehi-Nephi to whom Abinidi preached when he said "Ye have not applied your hearts to understanding; therefore ye have not been wise." (Mosiah 12:27) (The people of Lehi-Nephi "kept" the law of Moses.) Where are our hearts? Do we wish that our circumstances could change? Do we want to "become a law unto (ourself)" (DC 88:35) so that we can continue in our sinful ways or do we desire to engage in the battle of putting off the natural man and seek to change ourselves and our own hearts to be more fitting of disciples of Christ?
"Salvation doth not come by the law alone" (Mosiah 13:28). Our hearts must be sincerely seeking to have that peace of conscience before the Lord. It is not just works or those things which we do which are outwardly recognizeable that save us. We are saved by works and faith or in other words, heartfelt obedience. In this state of sincerity (or broken heart and contrite spirit), Christ can "answer the ends of the law" for "unto none else can the ends of the law be answered" (2 Nephi 2:7). He can't save us without us wanting him to.
But what do you do when we see that your wills is so strong and you're having a hard time submitting or even acknowledging the Lord's will for you? Or maybe you're having a hard time actually having the desire to give up your sin. Maybe you keep falling back into the same sins and your desire to keep trying is diminishing. We know from Alma 32 that the desire to change must be present before a seed of faith can be planted. I find hope in this scripture- DC 46:9. "For verily I say unto you they (the gifts of the spirit) are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments and him that seeketh so to do". The Lord acknowledges that sometimes we seek to keep the commandments, but we fail.
I know there has been times where I could justify my actions, but deep down inside, my conscience was at unrest. In such instances I think it's the natural man's tendency to give up on ourselves because we see that our hearts are still entangled in sin. We can also begin to lose hope that the Lord can or will help us. In this state we begin to "seek deep to hide (our) counsel from the Lord" (Isaiah 29:15) and we begin to slacken off in our prayers whether it be frequency or sincerity. When we give in to such hopeless feelings and take council from our fears we can know that we are giving in to the natural man. Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "To make us lose hope, feel miserable like himself and believe that we are beyond forgiveness, Satan might even misuse words from the scriptures that emphasize the justice of God, in order to imply that there is no mercy...God loves all of His children, and He will never cease to love and to hope for us...the Atonement of Jesus Christ can give us the assurance that sin is not a point of no return" (Ensign, 5/2007).
So how do we overcome these natural man tendencies and come off conquer? "We need a stong faith in Christ to be able to repent. Our faith has to include a "correct idea of (God's) character, perfections, and attributes" (Lectures on Faith (1985), 38). If we believe that God knows all things, is loving, and merciful, we will be able to put our trust in Him for our salvation without wavering. Faith in Christ will change our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that are not in harmony with God's will" (Uchtdorf, 100). We must realize that the Lord is pleased even when we "seeketh so to do". I have learned that although I may feel guilt and unworthy of the Lord's help, He is much more merciful with me than I can be with myself. I've also learned that the Lord loves honesty. When I see that my will is so strong and I have a disobedient disposition, I pray and tell my Heavenly Father about it. I'm honest with Him about how I may not want help, may not even have the desire to change, how I may be filled with such frustration with myself or that I'm even losing hope, but that I know what is right and I want to have a softened and believing heart. The Lord has told us that extending forgiveness is a precondition to receiving it. Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "For our own good, we need the moral courage to forgive and to ask for forgiveness...this includes forgiving ourselves." When I humble myself to acknowledge that I need and want the Lord's help and I believe that he'd actually offer it to me, I am in a sense forgiving myself.
I know the Lord won't grant us that which we don't want. However, sometimes we need help changing our agency to be aligned with His will for us. We must have trust in the Lord's love for us and aproach him in humility despite our weaknesses and shortcomings. Whenever I have asked or knocked or sought, he has given me line upon line, and gradually helped me reach the point where I don't just seek to keep the commandments, but am actually abiding by them and living my life in accordance to His will for me. As I do this, my faith in Him becomes unwavering.

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