“Gladly” receiving God’s law
by Jeff Markham
The restoration of the Gospel revealed God’s law to the saints. There will be times in each of our lives when God’s law might feel like a burden. In those times, it is important to take the time to reaffirm and deepen our understanding of and appreciation for the fundamental purposes of mortality.
Let’s begin with a parable.
A certain man had three sons. It was summer, and each of the sons left home each morning to spend time with their friends. One morning, as they passed through the garage, they saw it contained three brand new, shiny bicycles, almost calling out to them to be ridden.
The first son, without even a moment of hesitation, jumped on a bike and rode off. He loved the feeling of the wind through his hair. As he went about from place to place throughout the day, he didn’t think much about the bike. At times he left it lying on the ground. Despite his lack of concern for the bicycle, the newfound ability to quickly get to any part of town allowed him to have a lot of fun with his friends. They went to a park, then to a fast food place, then through a forest and to the banks of a muddy creek. In the process of pushing the bike to its limits, he ended up having to walk it home with a flat tire and more than a few dents and scratches. He knew he’d have some explaining to do.
The second son, upon seeing the bikes, hesitated for a moment in front of one that looked to be the perfect size for him. Although he knew it was not his, he had important matters to attend to that day. (What teenager wouldn’t consider hanging out with friends to be important?) He committed to taking especially great care of the bike and rationalized that his father wouldn’t mind if he took it. Perhaps he wouldn’t even notice! And so the second son took the bike that felt just right to him and used it all through the day. He locked it up, he avoided the muddy parts of the trails as he went, and when he returned home he wiped down the bike and replaced it exactly as he had found it.
Consider the following questions:
- Which son loves his father more?
- Which son cares more about the bicycles?
- To which son will the father offer the keys to the car?
Before you answer the questions, recall that the father has three sons. I’ll tell you about the third son when we return to this parable.
God’s laws govern His Church and can govern our lives.
This article will develop ideas from this week’s Come, Follow Me lesson specific to sections 41-42 of the Doctrine & Covenants. The introductory verses of Section 42 include the following words:
2 Again I say unto you, hearken and hear and obey the law which I shall give unto you.
3 For verily I say, as ye have assembled yourselves together according to the commandment wherewith I commanded you, and are agreed as touching this one thing, and have asked the Father in my name, even so ye shall receive. (Doctrine & Covenants 42)
Obedience to God’s law is fundamental to the gospel. (See Exodus 24:7; Joshua 24:24; Matthew 7:21.) Furthermore, we read of the joy of the saints upon receiving the word of God. In the Book of Mormon, Jacob wrote of his hope that his words would be received “with thankful hearts” and “with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt” (Jacob 4:3). When Alma invited the believers at the waters of Mormon to enter into a covenant to serve God and keep His commandments, “they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts” (Mosiah 18:11).
In January 1831, God had promised to give His law to His gathered people after they went “to the Ohio” (see Doctrine & Covenants 38:32). This promise was fulfilled the following month as the Prophet Joseph Smith received what is now Section 42 in Kirtland. The revelation came as a welcome set of instructions for the earnest new converts, who were striving to understand God’s will for them. They wanted to know how to be “of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4:32). The revelation includes a wide array of instructions:
- Preach the gospel and baptize (verses 4-8)
- Teach the principles of the Gospel (verse 12)
- “Observe the covenants and church articles to do them” (verse 13)
- Teach only by the Spirit (verses 14-16)
- “Thou shalt not” kill, steal, lie, commit adultery, speak evil, be proud in the heart, be idle (verses 18-27, 40, 42)
- Serve God and keep His commandments
- Remember the poor (verses 30-31)
- Consecrate properties (verse 30)
- Be clean (verse 41)
- Pray for and administer to the sick (verse 43-44)
- Live together in love (45)
Three verses at the end of the revelation make it clear how these instructions are to be received:
59 Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received … to be my law to govern my church;
66 Ye shall observe the laws which ye have received and be faithful.
69 Lift up your hearts and rejoice, for unto you the kingdom, or in other words, the keys of the church have been given. Even so. Amen.
In a letter written to Martin Harris dated February 22, 1831, Joseph Smith described the events:
Can the same be said of us? Do we as modern-day disciples receive “the law of the Kingdom” with gladness? And what should we do if we do not feel this way about some or all of God’s law?
What if we don’t feel particularly glad about all or part of God’s law?
It is understandable that from time to time, each of us might feel confused about particular aspects of God’s law. We might ask ourselves: “Why am I being asked to do (or not do) a particular thing?” At other times, we might feel overwhelmed by the numerous obligations that come with membership in the church. In those moments, it is important to step back and reflect on the central purpose of mortality.
First we should recognize that our behavior — even good choices — can be motivated by many factors, not all of which are healthy or enduring. Guilt or social expectations might be just as likely to cause us to show up to an inconveniently-timed service project as empathy. Understanding what motivates us can help us resolve feelings of confusion or frustration regarding God’s law.
The greatest motivator of human behavior
The greatest and most enduring motivator of our behavior is love of God. When our actions are motivated by love of God, there is no dark corner of our life into which this light will not shine. Therefore, aligning our perspective with God’s is a vital component of discipleship. It isn’t something we can expect to accomplish in one sitting. Taking time in our day — each and every day — to work at developing “an eye single to the glory of God” (Doctrine & Covenants 4:5) will help us receive God’s law with gladness.
I’ll illustrate with an example of a doctrine which helps my heart be glad and receptive to God’s law –the creation. The creation itself was designed to bring about God’s desire to covenant with His children. As I reflect on this deep truth, I am motivated to embrace the law of the Creator. Unexpectedly, the time I spend pondering deep concepts from the scriptures has had a greater impact on my willingness to stand as a witness, help a friend in need, or avoid temptation than any “to do” list ever has.
- God created “all things” in order to allow for “opposition in all things” and thereby see if we will “will do all things whatsoever the Lord [our] God shall command them.”
- Jesus Christ “descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth.”
- Using our agency to follow Christ and taking His name upon us through covenant allows us to “overcome all things.”
- This allows “all these things” to “give [us] experience” and “be for [our] good.”
- (See 2 Nephi 2, Mosiah 4:9, Abraham 3:25, Doctrine & Covenants 88:6, Doctrine & Covenants 122:7.)
These majestic, overarching truths bring every aspect of mortality into the purview of God’s design. His intentions for us are not limited to Sunday mornings. Rather, He has “prepared a way” for us to become “partakers of the heavenly gift” (see Ether 12:8). His law define the sure course to lead us through mortality successfully.
Isn’t it enough to just be a good person?
Elder D. Todd Christofferson addressed this important question quite directly in his most recent General Conference address.
Some might say, “I can make good choices with or without baptism; I don’t need covenants to be an honorable and successful person.” Indeed, there are many who, while not on the covenant path themselves, act in a way that mirrors the choices and contributions of those who are on the path. You might say they reap the blessings of walking a “covenant-consistent” path. What, then, is the difference of the covenant path?
While there may be many similarities between the actions of those who strive to be honorable and those who walk the covenant path, Elder Christofferson outlines five attributes unique to those who walk the covenant path.
- The nature of one’s obedience to God. “More than simply having good intentions, we solemnly commit to live by every word that proceeds forth from the mouth of God.”
- Relationship with Deity. “The covenants God offers to His children do more than guide us. They bind us to Him, and, bound to Him, we can overcome all things.”
- Divine help. “God provides an almost incomprehensible gift to help covenant-makers be covenant-keepers: the gift of the Holy Ghost. This gift is the right to the constant companionship, protection, and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Also known as the Comforter, the Holy Spirit ‘filleth with hope and perfect love.’”
- Gathering with others on the covenant path. “…those pursuing the covenant path also find singular blessings in various divinely appointed gatherings.”
- Inheriting covenant promises. “…it is only in pursuing the covenant path that we inherit the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the ultimate blessings of salvation and exaltation that only God can give.”
Just to reiterate, striving to live a “covenant-consistent” life isn’t a bad thing. It is most certainly a good thing, yet it is incomplete. If God is the creator, and the creation is His, then His law given to mortals should constitute the instruction manual for our lives — given to allow us to accomplish the purposes of mortality.
Back to the parable — what about that third son?
Let’s return to the parable of the man, the bicycles, and his sons. What happened to the third son? Recall the first son’s mischievous choice and the second son’s more honorable through yet misguided choice.
The third son lingered in the garage, pondering whether to follow the examples of his brothers. He eventually noticed something his brothers had not — a sign hanging above the door:
The bicycles have a purpose. Come and ask me if you’d like to know why I put them there.
His curiosity piqued, the third son immediately sought out his father to ask about the true purpose of the bicycles. He found his father in the garden, harvesting fruit. The father explained that the bicycles were obtained in order to give the family the means to deliver fruit from the family’s garden throughout the area. This was an idea that the boy had never considered, yet when the father invited him to join in making deliveries that day, this third son agreed.
At first, it seemed a burden. (He and his friends had some pretty spectacular plans, after all.) After delivering a basket of fruit to a family in great need, however, his attitude changed. His small act had lifted them up and was met with sincere gratitude. He soon forgot all about his previous plans. From that day forward, he focused on his father’s important work. If his friends wanted to spend time with him, he invited them to help him with the deliveries.
I hope this parable illustrates the importance of taking the time to understand God’s purposes for mortality and why His law should be received with gladness. Let’s revisit the three questions from above:
- Which son loves his father most?
- Which son cares most about the bicycles?
- To which son will the father offer the keys to the car?
It’s not difficult to figure out whom the father and the sons represent in the parable. The bicycle represents our time in mortality. It is not ours to take and do with as we please — neither to pursue mischievous adventure nor the purposes we consider honorable. The bicycle was laid before us with the expectation that we will use it to bring about our Heavenly Father’s grand designs.
It’s also worth noting that the father doesn’t love any of his sons less for the choices they make. He bought three bicycles for a reason, and he desires willing, happy helpers for his garden, not grudging ones. He is confident that in time, each of his children will see the wisdom in joining in the work.
Our loving Heavenly Father designed mortality to allow us to seek Him in a context of uncertainty and choose to write His law in our hearts. When we do, the creation sings along with the hosts of heaven and abundance abounds. (See Jeremiah 31:12-14; 4 Nephi 1:3-4, 7, 10, 15-18.)
To quote the Lord Himself:
I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine. And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine. But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low. For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves. (Doctrine & Covenants 104:14-17)
In our modern world, we often feel pressure to do more, move faster, and pack more tasks onto an already overflowing “to do” list. If we aren’t careful, we might find ourselves behaving like one of the first two sons — so preoccupied with our own desires that we fail to notice a big sign over our heads. Perhaps we should consider an alternative approach.
Slow down. Make up your mind and settle it in your heart that you choose God. Find the quiet time when you can kneel down in a private place and say to your Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, that you are His, that you are committed, body and soul, to Him, His Son, and the gospel path. Then follow where He leads, now and for the rest of your life. Don’t hesitate or hold back any longer but get on with your purpose and mission in life. Mortality is so short. Make this time count so that your eternity will be one of joy, not regret.
If you’re feeling burdened by the presence of God’s law in your life, give the words above some serious consideration. Each of us can slow down and look up for a sign. I testify that this principle will help us find abiding meaning in mortality, promised to the saints in Section 42:
If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal. … Behold, thou shalt observe all these things, and great shall be thy reward; for unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but unto the world it is not given to know them. (Doctrine & Covenants 42:61, 65)
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
Jeff Markham has been an avid student of the Book of Mormon his entire life. He recently joined the FairMormon group. He has practiced radiology in the Dallas, Texas area since 2011, having obtained his undergraduate education at Brigham Young University (B.S. in 2000), a medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, VA (M.D. 2005), and post-graduate training in diagnostic radiology and neuroradiology at University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, TX. He served as a full-time missionary in the Germany Hamburg Mission from 1996-1998. His favorite callings include teaching primary and early morning seminary. He lives in the Dallas area with his wife and children. He blogs at BookofMormonNotes.com.