Sunday, July 13, 2008

Discipleship: The Ride of a Lifetime

Jesus summarized the greatest commandment in this simple statement: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt alove thy neighbour as thyself. (Matthew 22:37-39)

The question that has been ruminating in the back of my mind recently is this: What is my "all"? And how do I know if I'm truly giving my all?

Lest anyone misunderstand that Latter-day Saints believe in a "works based salvation"--I've already blogged about that and how we know that it is Christ's merits, mercy, and grace that we rely on--not our own--for our salvation. So I'm not questioning how much my "all" is in order to merit the gift of salvation (because we can't). I'm questioning what my "all" is so that I can better love and serve and follow Christ.

Borrowing from Brother Robinson's "Parable of the Bicycle", no matter how much we bring to the table, whether a dollar, sixty-one cents, or a penny--our own efforts fall far short of the perfection required to enter the kingdom. That's why we ought to be so deeply grateful that because of our baptismal covenant we're judged as one with Christ, and not on our own merits. That's quite a partnership!

But knowing that doesn't mean that we can kick up our heels and treat this life like one long vacation. He still expects our heart--ALL of it--loving God and each other. He demands the best we got--our whole soul, might, mind, and strength. We can't hold anything back. We must give every single cent we have to Him. That's the catch. We actually have to give our ALL---our whole 100%. I suppose learning to do that is the lifetime lesson of discipleship.

"There is good news and bad news here. The bad news is that he still requires our best effort. We must try, we must work--we must do all that we can. But the good news is that having done all we can, it is enough--for now. Together we'll make progress in the eternities, and eventually we will become perfect--but in the meantime, we are perfect only in a partnership, in a covenant relationship with him. Only by tapping his perfection can we hope to qualify." (from "Believing Christ: A Practical Approach to the Atonement"

If I only have 25 cents to offer, that's fine, but I can't be content to hold back and only give him part. If you happen to have a whole dollar, that's great, but you still have to give 100% of it--not half, but ALL of it, without keeping the change and without asking for a receipt. This is a total effort.

The struggle for me is knowing what my personal ALL is. I don't worry about anybody else, because nobody can rightfully judge what another persons' "all" is. (See the parable of the divers in Robinson's book "Following Christ").

I feel very confident in Christ's ability. I'm less confident in knowing or using my ability and talents to give my own personal 100%. How do I know what all I have to give? What is my personal ALL? What actually constitutes "all that we can do" ? (2nd Nephi 25:23).

If we give our all and we give our best to God, how is that reflected in how we give our best to others?--in our families or in our callings?

One thing is certain: We serve God by serving others. "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God" (Mosiah 2:17). We love Him best by loving others back--the way He loves us.

Another thing is certain: I don't always do this. And therefore, ongoing repentance ought to be a way of life for me. Repentance--turning our wills over to God--must be an ongoing process of conversion and discipleship.

The hymn "There Is a Green Hill Far Away" has a line in it that says: "Dearly, dearly has he loved! And we must love him too, And trust in his redeeming blood, And try his works to do".

I actually don't have a problem with trusting in his redeeming blood, or believing Him. I feel confident in Christ and I rejoice in Him. My problem is wondering whether I'm really trying sufficiently to do his works, or repenting when I don't, rather than being indifferent. I want to be doing my best to follow him by walking the walk and not just talking the talk. I certainly try and trust, but I wonder whether I am really doing so with "all" that is in me.

I don't worry so much about what I can't do; I worry about doing all I actually CAN do. I know I can give more than I'm presently giving. I know I can be more than I currently am. In other words, I'm not worried about the "being saved" from death and hell aspect of Christ's grace, because I trust in Jesus. I'm worried about the exaltation aspect of grace because I feel like I have a lot to offer/give and I'm not quite sure if I am truly expending my "own best efforts" (Bible Dictionary, p. 697).

Sometimes it might seem like He requires a lot by requiring ALL of our heart, soul, and mind without being able to ease up or hold back. But then I only need to think of the alternative and that thought goes away quickly. In fact, thinking of the price He paid makes me want to give more.

I must never forget the price that was paid. I must never forget how I've wept out of gratitude for His great love, especially as I read His most compassionate command and plea born out of Gethsemane and the cross: "Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest..your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men." (D&C 19:15-19)

Repentance is one of the most merciful aspects of the gospel. Repentance can sometimes be a painful process. It can also be a very joyful process. Sometimes repentance requires a lot of work, perhaps involving service that never seems to be convenient. Maybe some discomfort on our part is a good thing. This quote by C. S. Lewis from "Mere Christianity", makes me think a little bit differently about repentance as an ongoing lifestyle involving some internal reconstruction, recommitting to God, and turning our hearts and wills to Him:

"Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of–throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."

Talk about a "conversion process"! When I was a kid my dad and I would sometimes go look at new cars and vans. My favorite were the "conversion vans" that had really been made into something luxurious. As I climbed in I'd get excited about thinking that this could be ours. Sometimes they had added a lot more than I could have imagined a van could have. Our conversion to Christ might well be thought of in a very similar way.

I suppose this goes more along with the enabling power of the Atonement as well as the redeeming power of the Atonement.

All I know is that I must be fully committed to the "ride of a lifetime" we call discipleship, including learning to give ALL I have and am.

"What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him -
Give my heart."

-words, Christina G. Rossetti


H-less E-less said...

As always I appreciate your humble insight. I so much enjoy hearing you bear testimony as you continue learning things through the spirit. The simple act of wanting to share your thoughts and learn from others is a fine testament of how you have cherished what the Lord has done for you.

Conversion comes from two Latin roots: con, meaning “with,” and vertere, meaning “to turn.”
Elder Nelson said "Conversion means 'to turn with'. Conversion is a turning from the ways of the world to, and staying with, the ways of the Lord. Conversion includes repentance and obedience. Conversion brings a mighty change of heart. Thus, a true convert is “born again,” walking with a newness of life."

For me, I feel like I just need to keep giving. I almost always feel like I could be doing more. There's always someone who could use another meal, always someone I feel I should call and express love, always another thing I could be doing to build the kingdom. That's where I appreciate that the Lord doesn't ask us just for all our might and strength, but our mind and our hearts. He not only knows all that we do, but our willingness and desire to serve, even when our actions are lacking. I don't think we need to be as concerned with "are we giving our all?" because that could breed the wrong motivation. It's hard to judge our all when "our all" will always come up short. Our 61 cents will never sound or be good enough. Instead maybe we need to always be asking the Lord "I feel like I have done all I can but do I need to do more? What can I do?"

I've rarely tried that because I know even before I ask that I haven't done my best and already know what more I should do. Rarely have I felt him tell me I have done all I could. Maybe this is so we can feel that we are nothing without Him, that really on our own we fall far short. That we can not rely on our good works, our talents, our personal merits to save us or ever be enough. He is our only hope.

He has repeatedly, consistently, lovingly,tenderly spoken to me to let me know that He will take over, that He has the power, He knows my heart, and that I can trust in Him. Sanctifying my weak efforts by His perfection, allowing me another opportunity to Believe that He is all that I profess; My Savior, My Mediator, My Way to eternal life.

How do we know if we are giving our all, if we are truly converted? Elder Nelson says "Self-examination tests are available in the scriptures. One measures the degree of conversion prerequisite to baptism. Another measures our willingness to serve others. To His disciple Peter, the Lord said, 'I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.' Willingness to serve and strengthen others stands as a symbol of one’s readiness to be healed."

Strengthen thy brethren. Love the Lord? Feed His sheep. I can do more.

H-less E-less said...

The quotes from Elder Nelson were from
Jesus Christ-The Master Healer November Ensign 2005

Clean Cut said...

Thanks for the reminder of the Latin root of "conversion" meaning "to turn". The Hebrew word for repent is "shuv, and it also literally means "to turn". Which all makes me think of a little statement Elder Maxwell made in one of my favorite talks: "Let us remember in our age of spin, the only spin God desires is our freely turning away from sin and turning to Him".

I like Elder Nelson's quote that "conversion is a turning from the ways of the world to, and staying with, the ways of the Lord. Conversion INCLUDES repentance and obedience. Conversion brings a mighty change of heart. Thus, a true convert is “born again,” walking with a newness of life."

Which brings up another point. If anybody has the right to talk about being "born again" Christians, it is the Latter-day Saints. It’s all over our doctrine and our scriptures. Unfortunately if we started calling ourselves that, other evangelical and traditional Christians would accuse us of trying to become like them. What they don’t know is that we believe it too!

Thanks for your thoughts!