Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Sacrifice that produces faith, vs sacrifice which doesn't
We traveled to Sun Valley Idaho last weekend and on the way spotted something really interesting. What you see in the picture is the concrete gutter corner of a very busy food and grocery parking lot of Twin Falls Idaho. You can see the typical leaves built up in the corner due to wind and some accumulated dust and dirt. Somehow this tomato plant got it's seeds in there, and is now growing in the decomposing leaves and bits of dirt that accumulated in the corner. An unlikely spot for a tomato plant of all things. The plant won't last long, but I admire it for growing in such difficult and unlikely place.
As I looked at this plant and pondered the difficulties of it's life I had a passage from a book came to mind about sacrifice. It's from the Book "The Second Comforter" by Denver Snuffer. The chapter deals with the Lectures on Faith and how faith is a result of sacrifice. That is how faith is produced.
I need to include a fair amount of the material to give context, but the part in particular I wanted to focus on for this post was about how sacrifice doesn't always produce faith. Sometimes sacrifice accomplishes nothing in terms of increasing your faith. For sacrifice to produce faith it has to be directed towards the proper end. See bold below. The bolding is mine. There were people in scripture for whom their sacrifices HAD NO faith producing effects
How do we avoid that? As long as life is going to require and offer us opportunity to sacrifice how do we proceed in a way that ensures our sacrifices actually produce faith?
Joseph saw no great mystery in the process of receiving grace. What kept most of mankind from great spiritual blessings was not unwillingness but ignorance. Joseph realized mankind needed to be brought out of ignorance. In explaining this need, Joseph taught, “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God.” DHC 4: 588. If mankind is to be saved, it will be through their acquisition of knowledge. Put otherwise, it is stupidity which damns us; it is knowledge which saves us.
What Joseph didn’t say in the quote, but is self-evident, is you can sacrifice without obtaining faith. When sacrifice is an end in itself, it produces nothing. Sacrifice must be directed toward the correct end, or it fails to produce faith. If sacrifice were in itself an end, then self-denial, and self-abuse, even the most extreme practices of asceticism, would be noble. They are not. They are instead self-centered and selfish. There is nothing noble about these extremes. None of them ever produced great faith.
From Moses to Jesus Christ there was sacrifice performed daily as a rite in Jerusalem (excepting only temporary interludes including the Babylonian captivity). Despite the daily sacrifices, the people most directly involved had no visitations from angels, had no revelations, received no audience with God and performed no miracles. When Christ came to fulfill the law of sacrifice, the ones performing the sacrifices were the least willing to accept Him. The sacrifices they had and were performing, had no faith-producing effects for them.
Sacrifice must, therefore, be connected with a proper understanding of how it relates to something higher. Sacrifices are not intended to teach you to sacrifice; they are trying to teach you another underlying truth. If there is no understanding of the underlying truth, then the act of sacrifice can become a meaningless end in itself. Almost any principle of the Gospel can become a misleading end in itself. The Gospel is a harmony of principles correctly weighed and measured. It is a symphony, and not a single bloated and distorted note.
The underlying truth sacrifice teaches is simple. All great truths are simple. If they were not, then they could not be obtained by the weak, simple, and childlike among us. And, of course, it was and is to such persons the Gospel has always been primarily directed.
What is that underlying truth sacrifice teaches, and which can be obtained through no other means? Christ addressed that underlying truth in simple statements about the heart and treasures. He said: Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt. 6: 19–24, emphasis added.)
You cannot be both spiritual and materialistic. What do you treasure? Sacrifice is a means of proving to yourself and to God that you treasure Him and His above all the things of this world. It is a way of changing your heart from things here on earth to the greater things in heaven. Eventually, if you are materialistic and you begin to sacrifice, you will begin to change. Sacrifice is a tool given to us to change our hearts and realign them to being less materialistic and more spiritual.
You have only “one light” you can let in. We are so constituted we are able to focus on only one thing at a time. We necessarily choose between all other things and that one thing. Christ is teaching us we have to choose God above all else. Sacrifice allows us to show by our choice whatever we lay upon the altar is not more treasured to us than God’s will for us.
By laying ourselves and our emotional needs on the altar and sacrificing the things this world values, we are saying and proving we choose the other world to this one. We value the things of the Spirit above the material things of this existence. It is another affirmation that we would prefer to have our existence filled with things of the Spirit, rather than filled with the materialism of this world
It was as a result of this relationship that Christ taught: “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” (Matt. 10: 38–40, emphasis added.) If you want to find life, lose it. If you lose your life, i.e. you give your time, talents, and everything which God has given to you to His service and will, then you find a new life. That new life is connected with God, because it is lived in conformity with His will.
You will recall that Christ utterly lost His life in obedience to the Father. His explanation of how He lived His life was summarized briefly by Him: “And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.” (3 Ne. 11: 11, emphasis added.) Christ was the most fulfilled, most intelligent, and most obedient person who ever lived. He was all these things because He obeyed the Father. Anyone who will obey Him will receive light and truth as a result. 169 Light and truth are “intelligence.” 170 Christ was the most intelligent 171 because He was the most obedient. This is a simple concept, yet it holds profound implications. It suggests obedience is something much greater than might first be expected. Obedience brings intelligence, and unlocks mysteries. Far from being oppressive or confining, it turns out obedience is liberating and enlightening. How false have been the criticisms directed at obedience!
In another place He taught; “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16: 24–26, emphasis added.) The trade-off is again put succinctly. If you want life, real life, alive in God, then you need to obey Him. Lose yourself, your pride, self-will and meaningless individuality in something much greater. Become connected to the Father by obedience to His ordained laws, and follow His commandments and find yourself growing in light, truth and intelligence. It is a simple formula which anyone can follow. But for some reason only the humble are willing to submit to the process. The proud and vain will never climb that mountain and, therefore, will never receive a view of the things on the other side.
All these things go together. They are all the same subject. If we want to obtain the kind of faith needed to draw aside the veil and behold the things of God, then we must draw aside that veil by our sacrifice of this world for that world. We have to lose the connection here to gain the connection there. Without doing that through our sacrifices, we cannot develop the necessary faith. This was what Joseph was telling us with the quote from the Lectures on Faith, earlier. It is an indisputable truth that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things.” So if we want to develop this faith, we must be willing to sacrifice all earthly things.
How is this possible? We don’t die for religion in most cultures of the world today. Living in an affluent, Western society, as many Saints do today, how is the sacrifice of all earthly things even possible? How, in particular, can you be like those who have offered their all in sacrifice to obtain approval from God? If you can have only a hope to receive a like portion of faith by doing a like form of sacrifice, how is this to be done?
All great truths are simple. Nephi assured us (as we covered earlier), God gives us no commandments unless He prepares a way for us to obey them. So, God must have provided a way for us to accomplish what He commands of us.
The answer may seem at first superficial. It is not. This process is not a single giant step. It is many small steps. When explaining the process of exaltation, Joseph stated you grow into exaltation: “from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory.” (DHC 6: 306.) In that same talk he said, “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation.” (Id., p. 306–307.) Here again, Joseph is connecting growth to knowledge and obedience. Again he is making this process openly democratic and universally applicable. And he is telling us this is a gradual process of increasing obedience in conformity to increasing knowledge.
To be most meaningful, sacrifice by one person should bless and benefit another person. When Isaiah taught the highest principles and aspirations of the law of the fast, he linked it to blessing others.
Helping and blessing others is the highest form of sacrifice. When you act to relieve the burdens of others, you are acting as Christ would. You are rising to another level of living where angels themselves dwell. You are becoming a “type” of Christ. It is not merely asking yourself “what would Jesus do?” but rather it is doing what Jesus did and commanded you to do. Action in conformity to commandments brings light into your life. You follow His path and you will be walking up that same mountain in which you, too, will be transfigured.
What is needed, however, is not just a change in perception, but a change of heart. You can’t change the heart without then changing the perception. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ set out standards which should transform a person. The standards there ask us to change from merely avoiding physically harming others, as was required in the Law of Moses, to loving them instead. He even asks you to love them when they despitefully use and abuse you. Apparently impossible standards are being asked of us by the Lord...
Praying for the unlikable and unworthy is a part of the Christ-like attributes which both Nephi and Lehi display in the First Book of Nephi. Lehi makes intercession for the condemned residents of Jerusalem. 173 Nephi makes intercession for his unbelieving older brothers. 174 Both are showing the kind of charity that makes you like Christ. Christ was the Great Intercessor. In like measure, you must make intercession for those who fall short in your life. You should thank God for the opportunity which they give to you to show that charity. It may seem odd to do this when you start. But prayer and grace go together. You will find you are able to pray with sincerity for those in your life after you have spent time on your knees on their behalf. Grace begets grace. 175 Do it, and you will grow as a result. 176 The Saints and your calling in the Church is the place where you begin this process. The offensive and failing Saint has not been given to you to judge, condemn or belittle. They are given to you as a gift from God, to allow you to serve, uplift, pray for and show love to as God’s own son or daughter. They are your greatest opportunities. You should love them for this.
It does not end, of course, with service and kindness to your fellow Saint. You must also learn to serve the “Samaritan,” and to heal and care for them. If it ends with mere Church service, you have not yet overcome xenophobia. It is the “other,” the “outsider,” and the “stranger and foreigner” through whom sacrifice is perfected. The unlovely and even the persecutor is where Christ’s commandments lead us at last. We must develop love for those who persecute us, or despitefully use and abuse us to reach what Christ taught. He really meant it. And He really wants us to get there. When we do, we find ourselves standing on holy ground. For that ground was sanctified by His own blood, shed in His own sacrifice, when He poured out the last full measure of devotion to His Father’s will. When you hear His words echoing in your own voice, “forgive them for they know not what they do,” then you will begin to see the Master in the mirror. His image will appear to you there first. Your countenance will look more like His: more humble, more contrite, more obedient and filled with more light than you are right now.
This may seem daunting. Perhaps it is when viewed as a single undertaking. Try viewing it as a state of being rather than as a list of things to accomplish. Whatever it is you do, do it for the sake of others. If you baby-sit, approach it as a servant serving the welfare of the children. Love them and care for them, and recall Christ taking the children and blessing them. 179 If you repair plumbing, do it to serve and bless others. Take time to show them the individual attention and care that you would show them if you were their elder brother. If you wait on tables, do it with the goal of showing compassion and care for those you serve. There is not a trade, profession or calling which cannot be viewed as an opportunity to care for and bless others. Western societies tend to reduce all business to its starkest fiscal terms. Don’t do that. Remember the people who you serve.
Christ was a carpenter until He began His ministry. He undoubtedly developed His attributes during the season in which He served others as their carpenter. As JST-Matt. 3: 24–26 reports: “And it came to pass that Jesus grew up with his brethren, and waxed strong, and waited upon the Lord for the time of his ministry to come. And he served under his father, and he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him. And after many years, the hour of his ministry drew nigh.” Christ “waited” while fully prepared to act in His ministry as the Messiah. And while doing so, He “needed not that any man should teach him” because He was already fully prepared. This persisted for “many years” before His ministry began. While waiting in this fully prepared state, “he served under his father,” as a carpenter. Just how do you imagine He would serve under Joseph as a carpenter? When you have decided how He would do that, you go and do likewise in whatever trade or profession you serve.
Whatever pains you have to bear, or difficulties you have to overcome, or burdens you have to put up with in helping others, do it as a sacrifice to God. There are infinite opportunities to do so. They are all around us. If you elect to treat these sacrifices as opportunities to grow and develop, and show compassion to others while subordinating your own self-interests in the bargain, you are doing what Joseph instructed in the Lectures on Faith. You are becoming like the ancients who gave their lives to God. But you are doing so in small, daily increments. That is how such sacrifices are best made. After all, the daily sacrifices in the Temple were designed to teach a principle. That principle of daily effort and on-going devotion to God through continual sacrifices over a lifetime is how Christ became the Only Begotten. He suffered His Father’s will in all things from the beginning. It was not just a single, heroic act in Gethsemane and on the cross. It was devotion paid daily. He is our great example.
Don’t drive by the man in need. Take the few minutes to stop and help. Such is the stuff from which faith to move mountains is made. Whether you move a mountain, or move yourself to climb over a mountain, the movement is the same. On the other side, everything will have been transfigured. Because you will have to be transfigured in order to move to that place.
These things are simple. But they are true and indispensable. Christ taught them to simple people living simple lives. They can be lived by anyone.
You have to be willing to obey and to sacrifice if you want to get there. But this sacrifice and obedience should not be performed in a hollow, rigid and meaningless way. The sacrifices you offer should be to bless others and undertaken with a sense of joy. They should be the same “type” which Christ offered, and intended to serve, bless and benefit others.