For more than a month I’ve felt driven in family times each evening to talk to my teens (I have five still at home) about asking more of themselves. We can get up each day, brush our teeth, put on clothes, go do our thing, come home and relax, go do fun stuff, and go to bed, and we will get older, taller (well, they will), and probably at some level, smarter, I’ve said. But it’s like expecting to become bodybuilders by walking around slump-shouldered to live a non-intentional existence and expect anything other than an unintended life.
“Streeeeeeeeetch yourselves!” I’ve pled. “Look for opportunities to work harder, exercise greater patience, learn something nobody’s trying to teach. Reach for the voice of God.” They get it because we’ve lived together for a long time, and we intersperse all this intensity with a whole lot of laughing, but a part of them each is waiting for me to finish so they can pull out their ipods. It’s an uphill battle, but so is conditioning for any team sport.
I feel such a sense of urgency, so I keep at it, a coach with “just enough fire to singe (their) eyebrows.” In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been solemn as we grieve and I keep saying these same things, now often through wrung-out tears. Being engaged in life matters. You are more than this moment.
Faith is important to me. It’s a lifeline that has steadied me through experiences that have rolled upon each other with drowning consistency. Each experience has left another layer of confidence as it rolled away, both in God and in myself. As Joseph Smith stated in the sixth Lecture on Faith (paragraph 2-5):
It is essential for any person to have an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to the will of God to enable him to have that confidence in God without which no person can obtain eternal life. …
Such was and always will be the situation of the Saints of God. Unless they have an actual knowledge that the course they are pursuing is according to the will of God, they will grow weary in their minds and faint. For such has been and always will be the opposition in the hearts of unbelievers and those who know not God against the pure and unadulterated religion of heaven (the only thing which ensures eternal life). They will persecute to the uttermost all who worship God according to his revelations, receive the truth in the love of it, and submit themselves to be guided and directed by his will. …
For a man to lay down his all—his character and reputation, his honor and applause, his good name among men, his houses, his lands, his brothers and sisters, his wife and children, and even his own life also, counting all things but filth and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ—requires more than mere belief or supposition that he is doing the will of God. It requires actual knowledge, realizing that when these sufferings are ended, he will enter into eternal rest and be a partaker of the glory of God.
In response to these lines, Robert J. Matthews commented:
The foregoing is so plain, so well stated, and so reasonable that I feel confident that anyone who reads it will understand it and will almost automatically want to have that same knowledge and testimony. It just naturally follows that after we learn of the perfect character and nature of God, what kind of a being he is, there wells up within our own hearts an intense desire, a craving and thirsting, a longing to be in harmony with him. That is why repentance, followed by baptism for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire or the Holy Ghost, accompany true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. These are sequential steps that inch us along the pathway towards having our own lives conform to the revelations and commandments of God. Such a course of life feeds the soul, and comforts and gives it rest. Only a very calloused nature would not long for that unity and joy that come as a result of our knowing that we have the Lord’s specific, precise, and particular approval.
We debate (or at least some do) the need to conform – to acquiesce to someone else’s plan, someone else’s pattern – and yet there is no escaping repentance (changing our minds and our hearts) as the path to God. A life of obedience is a voluntary conforming to a plan laid out by God through prophets – an act of faith that this submission will lead to greater power. It means sacrificing the path we would choose, the one most appealing or easiest, for one more rigorous and trying.
Obedience and sacrifice are acts of faith that then build faith. These acts are what nourish the seed sown by laborers in the field – wheat seed. Tares are sown by Satan, the parable is clear, and they choke the wheat with whatever challenges faith and obedience and sacrifice. We are charged with distinguishing between the wheat and tares (in our minds and in our behavior) all our lives:
16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?
21 And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.
And on he goes, Moroni, in that wonderful sermon from his father that neatly ties faith with hope and charity to produce power. So why leave that field with its tares, when the wheat so desperately needs a chance to grow and produce fruit? In 1832, while reviewing the edits for the Bible, Brother Joseph received the following:
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servants, concerning the parable of the wheat and of the tares:
2 Behold, verily I say, the field was the world, and the apostles were the sowers of the seed;
3 And after they have fallen asleep the great persecutor of the church, the apostate, the whore, even Babylon, that maketh all nations to drink of her cup, in whose hearts the enemy, even Satan, sitteth to reign— behold he soweth the tares; wherefore, the tares choke the wheat and drive the church into the wilderness.
4 But behold, in the last days, even now while the Lord is beginning to bring forth the word, and the blade is springing up and is yet tender—
5 Behold, verily I say unto you, the angels are crying unto the Lord day and night, who are ready and waiting to be sent forth to reap down the fields;
6 But the Lord saith unto them, pluck not up the tares while the blade is yet tender (for verily your faith is weak), lest you destroy the wheat also.
7 Therefore, let the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest is fully ripe; then ye shall first gather out the wheat from among the tares, and after the gathering of the wheat, behold and lo, the tares are bound in bundles, and the field remaineth to be burned.
So tares are the beliefs and behaviors of apostasy that drove the church into the wilderness, and the harvest will pull out the wheat and leave a field of tares to be burned … after the faith of the church is sufficiently strong (bearing fruit). As a gardener I have pulled up many a weed only to pull up the plant I’m trying to help as well. In a wheat field, you don’t pull weeds. You only cut it down when it’s finished growing. You take the wheat first, because trying to get to the tares first will destroy the wheat. Once you have the wheat, you burn the field. When the church begins to bear fruit (faith), the field will be ripe and ready to harvest.
The wheat is wheat when it’s bearing the fruit of faith, and it’s ripe when that faith is full, as Mormon and Moroni later discuss, when the fruits of the spirit are widespread. Only what is bearing the fruit of faith will be harvested.
We are challenged to discern between the fruits of faith and apostasy all our lives. We could look at ourselves as fields and expect that at the harvest God and his angels will cull from our experience all that is worthwhile and burn the rest, and that would leave the bulk of the work up to him. However, it seems more likely that the field is the world and the wheat plants are those who choose to bear fruit in their lives.
Pres. Marion G. Romney calls this trusting in the Lord:
It appears from the Word of Wisdom and other scriptures that there are destroying angels who have a work to do among the peoples of the earth in this last dispensation. The Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1831 that because all flesh was corrupted before him, and because the powers of darkness prevailed upon the earth, these angels were “waiting the great command to reap down the earth, to gather the tares that they [might] be burned” (D&C 38:12).
In 1894 President Woodruff said: “God has held the angels of destruction for many years, lest they should reap down the wheat with the tares. But I want to tell you now, that those angels have left the portals of heaven, and they stand over this people and this nation now, and are hovering over the earth waiting to pour out the judgments. And from this very day they shall be poured out. Calamities and troubles are increasing in the earth, and there is a meaning to these things.” (Improvement Era, Oct. 1914, p. 1165.)
Other discussions of similar dividing good/evil also point to this idea of choice, focusing on the reaping of the good first, but interestingly, the good seem to be self-reaping.
26 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.
27 They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.
28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;
29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.
31 In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.
32 Remember Lot’s wife.
33 Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.
34 I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
35 Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
36 Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord, shall they be taken.
37 And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is gathered; or, in other words, whithersoever the saints are gathered, thither will the eagles be gathered together; or, thither will the remainder be gathered together.
38 This he spake, signifying the gathering of his saints; and of angels descending and gathering the remainder unto them; the one from the bed, the other from the grinding, and the other from the field, whithersoever he listeth.
39 For verily there shall be new heavens, and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
40 And there shall be no unclean thing; for the earth becoming old, even as a garment, having waxed in corruption, wherefore it vanisheth away, and the footstool remaineth sanctified, cleansed from all sin.
(Luke 17:26-27, JST verses 36-40 added)
Michaela Stephens makes the point that Jesus was saying that this separation was a choice by the righteous to leave the wicked and that it was the very day God commanded the righteous to separate themselves. It makes one wonder if in JSM 1:37, 41-45 the reference to angels gathering out the elect means in reality that angels call the elect, who gather themselves.
We have some poignant references to “the very day” sorts of salvation in the people of Alma who left the same day they were warned by God he would take them out of bondage, and the calling of Elisha by Elijah, who essentially said, “hey, no skin off my nose if you want to go say goodbye but I’m outta here, now or never, dude.”
What makes that possible, to drop everything and hop when God says hop? Habit.
It’s one of the most important reasons, IMHO, that morality matters. Can you, when you are barely old enough to reason through what you believe, demonstrate by remaining firm in the face of hormones so strong they have preserved human life on this planet that you will obey? Can you demonstrate by evaluating every thing you put in your mouth, when putting things in your mouth preserves your daily life and is a huge part of your culture, that you will obey? Can you in every daily moment be mindful enough to hear and trusting enough to heed a warning that won’t allow you to go back into your house or say goodbye to your friends and family or finish even the task of preparing a meal?
If you can, you’re wheat. And you’re wheat because of a lifetime of choosing being wheat. This is worth singeing some eyebrows. It’s worth drawing lines in life and inspiring to higher standards. Returning to Brother Joseph in Lecture 6:7:
Let us here observe 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. It is through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life. And it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice because he seeks to do His will, he does know, most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering and that he has not sought nor will he seek His face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life.
In speaking of lines and the choices that determine our growth, there is the simple fact also that the Lord’s side of the line is safer. The words of George Albert Smith while serving as an apostle (echoed in an interesting talk by Sheri Dew) are unforgettable:
There is a division line well defined that separates the Lord’s territory from Lucifer’s. If we live on the Lord’s side of the line Lucifer cannot come there to influence us, but if we cross the line into his territory we are in his power. By keeping the commandments of the Lord we are safe on His side of the line, but if we disobey His teachings we voluntarily cross into the zone of temptation and invite the destruction that is ever present there. Knowing this, how anxious we should always be to live on the Lord’s side of the line. [“Our M.I.A.” Improvement Era, May 1935, 278]
Mixing metaphors a bit, we can sense that the lines are drawn on the playing field that the wheat and tares are growing in. The lines are within us as we discern between those ideas and activities that draw us closer to or further from Christ and faith, making us more wheat or more tares by our choice to engage in wheat behavior or tare behavior. And, as an added benefit, there’s safety for the soul in … choosing the right.
This is what I want for my teens, as I implore them once again to streeeeeeeetch themselves beyond the minimal, to accept a sacrifice here and there with grace and humility, to even go out of their way sometimes to make a sacrifice. To go beyond being free of moral transgression to being pure. To accept a prophet’s suggestions with a desire to act immediately. We all make sacrifices in life, because there is not enough time to do everything. What we sacrifice says a great deal about what we choose to be: in the game or on the sidelines, wheat or tare, called or left behind.
What I want for my teens, I want for me as well. So, for me, the sacrifices are these:
Disdain. Because it’s predicated on a holier-than-thou belief that our own well-structured ideas, though masked, are superior to the provincial gut reactions of those people over there.
Debate. Because it presumes that we can come to know things intellectually that God has repeatedly said we will only know through experiment and experience, and reduces the entire mortal experience to a talk show.
Distraction. Because life offers the opportunity to live intentionally, not in reaction, if we want something more important than a slow evolution into something unintended.
Today’s question for thought: What are you willing to sacrifice to build your faith?