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Friday, January 17, 2014

Insight Inventory

I don't know quite how to write this post, but I guess I'll write what comes to mind, and hopefully I'll be guided to emphasize what's important and say something of value to whomever reads it.

I've decided to take a leaf out of Neal A. Maxwell's book (which is never a bad thing to do (:) and take inventory of insights I've gained in my life thus far. In Maxwell's talk, "Insights from My Life," He notes some valuable reasons for our spiritual insights:
We speak and sing in the Church of counting our blessings, and that's a good thing. So is inventorying our insights.... May I suggest you try not only counting your blessings, but also inventorying your insights from time to time. It "will surprise you what the Lord has done" in teaching you things you so much need to know.... May God bless us to cherish the insights he has given us and to live in such a way that new insights can flow to us. As we count our blessings, let us inventory our insights also, and, in appropriate ways, share with others where they may be helpful.
I love how Maxwell says we should cherish the insights God has given us, and then live in a way that new insights can flow to us. I guess I'll start with this idea as my first personally gained insight.

You Can Receive Divine Revelation Everyday
At the beginning of my undergrad, I took a religion class from Carol Wilkinson. She was a very devoted and sincere teacher, and even though she worked primarily as a professor in the P.E. department, she provided many great insights to us in class. I remember one day, she told the class that we can communicate with God as often as we want. "I receive personal revelation everyday," she mentioned, illustrating her point. Then she moved on to other points in the lesson, but that thought stopped me. I knew personal revelation was a privilege we could enjoy when we needed to know big answers, or when we needed protection from danger, but I hadn't considered that we could receive revelation every single day! I wouldn't know the power of this statement until two years after taking that class.

A couple years ago, I was feeling very down on myself. I'd suffered many rejections from people I'd loved and had almost lost very deep friendships I valued greatly. I had never felt so alone. Well, thankfully, I had downloaded a lot of talks from Neal A. Maxwell onto my iPod, and I'd developed a habit of listening to them when I felt depressed. I'd take my bike and go for long rides while letting Maxwell's eternal perspective help broaden my own. Soon, I began to realize that I could have the perspective Maxwell possessed if I searched for it. I could communicate with my Father in Heaven as much as I wanted, and there I would find the peace and insight that seemed to come to Maxwell so easily.

So, that summer, I began a kind of hunt. Every day, I hunted for promptings from my Heavenly Father. Every day, I prayed hard for God to grant me insight that would help me be happier and--more importantly--help me better serve the building up of God's kingdom. It took diligent concentration; I often forgot my goal until late that night and would chide myself and try to be better the next day. But, eventually, I got into a mindset where I searched hungrily for God's messages to me, and I would find them. They weren't always grand visions or anything like that, but most of the time, I'd have the feeling that I should write someone an encouraging note, or that I should study more about patience in the scriptures, or that some people I'd always thought didn't like me were just wanting a closer friendship. Some people may regard these as personal thoughts we concoct in our own brains (that often is a question we struggle with, right? "Is this me talking, or is this the Holy Ghost?"), but I followed these thoughts, regardless of where they came from, and soon, I'd find more of them every day. The more I followed these thoughts, the more useful of an instrument I felt I was in God's hands. And, as a result, the happier I became! I could say these thoughts were merely my own conscience trying to help me out, but I know, as Moroni said, that "every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God" (Moroni 7:13).

Towards the end of the summer, I started having consistent promptings each day. I kept feeling that I should prepare to enter the temple and make covenants with our Heavenly Father. This was something I could not deny--I knew that God had something in store for me, and He wanted me to be prepared for it. Maybe two or three weeks later, Stephen and I began dating again, and eventually, I was able to receive my endowments in the House of the Lord. It was one of the two sweetest experiences of my life, and, had I not prepared myself for such beautiful covenants, I would not have experienced such a sweet blessing from my Heavenly Father. This experience reminds me again and again that our Heavenly Father--who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent--desires to share with us, His imperfect, stumbling children, His vast store of eternal knowledge. As Maxwell said in another brilliant talk, “Astonishingly, to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is clear that the Father and the Son are giving away the secrets of the universe!” ("Meek and Lowly"). I promise you that if you tune your hearts to the Spirit, you will be amazed at the personalized guidance the Lord has for you. He can show you what you specifically must do in order to become like Him. And you will feel your souls expand to a degree you hadn’t known possible.

The Lifestyle of Discipleship is Not a Passive One
I often say this, but man! How important it is to feel it! I feel like this insight is gained every month or so. That's about how long it takes me to re-realize that living on auto-pilot will not make me happy, nor will it be useful to God when I am sent here on an errand from the Lord to build up and prepare His kingdom on the earth. Maxwell touched on this point at the end of his talk on insights:
May He help us, individually, to rise to that discipleship which is so needed. The time will come in the lifetime of many here when the people of the world will acknowledge that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, in fact, the kingdom of our God and His Christ--just what we have said all along it is. What high promises, what soul-stretching experiences await us! May we so live in order that we will not only witness these events, but also accelerate their completion and fulfillment.
I have experienced two levels of discipleship-- intrapersonal and interpersonal. Concerning the former, I have mentioned this in blog posts past, but I have a steady cycle I inevitably follow: I feel power and passion for the word of God. I study it! Write it! Live it! and then... I get tired. I get lazy. I get cynical and frustrated for smaller and smaller reasons. I get wound up in trivial matters that distract me from what I'm really doing here. Why do I ever stray? The moment I turn my heart toward God again and make my "eye single to [His] glory" (D&C 88:67), I am "filled with light"! I am filled with warmth and peace and purpose. This feeling should be chased after if I am to consistently feel this closeness with my Heavenly Father.

Concerning interpersonal discipleship, we who are blessed with knowledge and truth must recognize that we are not here on this earth to dilly dally. We must be sure to direct our efforts towards the kingdom of God in any way we can. As Brigham Young said, “If you give anything for the building up of the Kingdom of God, give the best you have. What is the best thing you have to devote to the Kingdom of God? It is the talents God has given you. How many? Every one of them. What beautiful talents! What a beautiful gift! . . . Let us devote every qualification we are in possession of to the building up of God’s Kingdom, and you will accomplish the whole of it” (Discourses of Brigham Young 445). And we would be surprised at how varied God's instruments are! I never considered comedy a gospel tool until I began using it that way. Now, I see the merits of uplifting laughter, celebration, and connectivity. The moment I try to use my talents of comedy writing for personal gain, or the moment I lack diligence and discipline in honing my craft, there arises a lackluster in my performance. I find I am really at my best when I work hard every day, when I study and practice to improve. And I find I improve when I am focused on who I am working for--for my church and for my God.

As I mentioned in my last blog post about the work and effort that goes into a discipleship of Christ, perseverance is a virtue we during times of trial and difficulty. But diligence is used all the other days when all we need to do is continue climbing upward. Diligence is the more difficult of these two virtues because it is required during the flat periods, the times we feel no desperation in our circumstances and so must look to God with no outside provocation. But that's how we continue to climb, brothers and sisters! We must be diligent in our discipleship! We must actively keep our lines of communication with God open. These include doing the "small things" such as studying the scriptures, saying meaningful prayers, and attending the temple. For "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass" (Alma 37:6). These great things include a rich and personal relationship with our all powerful and infinitely loving Heavenly Father, as well as cultivating others' relationships with God as well. Through actively living this gospel, we can come closer to Christ, and we can bring others with us!

Heavenly Father Loves You and Respects You
It's surprising how much more I understand this concept the more I live. I cannot wait for the future when I will fully understand just how big this statement really is. I do not wish to measure God's love for us in terms of blessings, for I know many people much better than I have suffered far greater than I and it does not mean that it is because God's love for them is less than for me. Instead, I'd like to measure God's love in terms of His creation and calculation in our lives dedicated to our inheritance of all that He has.

Something that has hit me the last few times I've been to the temple is the time and painstaking effort God put into the creation of this world. He created the sun and stars, the water and land, the plants and shrubbery, the animals and insects. And our world isn't the only world out there. Countless planets are under His domain, each with their own beautiful creations. Yet, God's focus is on us, His imperfect, stumbling children. He sent His Son to save us from our sins; He sends messengers to take us from our imperfect habits; He has given us agency so that we might enjoy eternal life when, at the end of it all, it was our choice to live with God.

Sometimes, God manifests His love for us in His calculations to help us change, to shed our old selves and take on a more joyful, righteous self. Maxwell put it this way:
So much of life’s curriculum … consists of efforts by the Lord to get and to keep our attention. Ironically, the stimuli he uses are often that which is seen by us as something to endure. Sometimes what we are being asked to endure is his help. Help to draw us away from the cares of the world. Help to draw us away from self-centeredness. Attention-getting help, when the still small voice has been ignored by us. Help in the shaping of our souls. And help to keep the promises we made so long ago to him and to ourselves. Thus there is clearly no immunity from these stimuli. There cannot be. No immunity from afflictions. There cannot be. Whether the afflictions are self-induced as most of them are, or are of the divine tutorial type, it matters not. Either way, the Lord can help us in a most interesting manner. Our afflictions, said Alma can be quote “swallowed up in the joy of Christ” (Alma 31:38). (If Thou Endure it Well)
At the risk of seeming very quote-happy, I'll also note another one of Maxwell's descriptions of God that he mentioned in his insights:
God's seeming sternness is actually a sweetness beyond our comprehension. Petitioning in prayer has taught me that the vault of heaven, with all its blessings, is to be opened only by a combination lock: one tumbler falls when there is faith, a second when there is personal righteousness, and the third, and final tumbler falls only when what is sought is (in God's judgment, not ours) "right" for us. Sometimes we pound on the vault door for something we want very much, in faith, in reasonable righteousness, and wonder why the door does not open. We would be very spoiled children if that vault door opened any more easily than it does now. I can tell, looking back, that God truly loves me by the petitions that, in his perfect wisdom and love, he has refused to grant me. Our rejected petitions tell us not only much about ourselves, but also much about our flawless Father.
From an eternal perspective, we can see that God has an active hand in our lives, trying--without interfering with agency--to prompt us in the right direction so that we will enjoy the fruits of a righteous life. And these fruits truly are magnificent. To illustrate, let me post, yet another quote, from Lorenzo Snow:
It is a wonderful pleasure to speak upon the great things that God proposes to bestow upon His sons and daughters, and that we shall attain to if we are faithful…. Our travel in this path of exaltation will bring to us the fullness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to stand in the presence of our Father, to receive of His fullness, to have the pleasure of increasing in our posterity worlds without end, to enjoy those pleasant associations that we have had in this life, to have our sons and our daughters, our husbands and our wives, surrounded with all the enjoyment that heaven can bestow, our bodies glorified like unto the Savior’s, free from disease and all the ills of life, and free from the disappointments and vexations and the unpleasant sacrifices that we are making here 
It is also important to note Heavenly Father's respect for us, as well as His love. Do you think He would allow us to reign as gods and goddesses after this life if He didn't trust us to one day become as He is now? As Maxwell says, “How marvelous it is, even given the great distance of the trek... that he beckons us to develop this likeness so that one day we may have fullness with him. It is the journey of journeys. Nothing else is even remotely comparable to it in its importance” (Maxwell). Again, Maxwell says, “[Christ] has said to us, 'What manner of men [and women] ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am' (3 Nephi 27:27). What an invitation! And implicit in that invitation verifies the possibility of its realization.” God asks us to become as He is because He knows it is possible. An infinite being with infinite knowledge and power knows that we can become perfect, even as He is! Is that not AMAZING?!

I know this gospel is true. I have had many experiences that confirm my knowledge of these insights, and so I felt it right to repay my Heavenly Father in some tiny manner by taking inventory of these knowledges. I hope you may feel the truth of these insights as I do, and that you may take inventory of your own insights and realize just how involved our eternal Heavenly Father is in your eternal progression. It really is fantastic.