Monday, August 22, 2016

Balancing Act: Fully leveraged and fully tethered

Fully leveraged on the one hand...

We are told very clearly that the Lord expects us to exert tremendous effort in living the gospel.
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. (Mark 12:30)
...it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. (2 Nephi 25:23)

This effort is meant to pervade every aspect of our lives.

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; (D&C 58:27)
Most people I know are not fully leveraged. They see their situations as unavoidable, and ignore the many things they could do to put themselves in a place where they could more fully study the gospel, seek the Lord, and help others. In the United States, we are drowning on opportunity, and an unfortunate number of people lack the faith to construct a situation for themselves that will allow them to meet the Lord's expectations for them. I wrote a book on this subject. If you are looking for guidance, you might find it helpful.

But fully tethered on the other hand...

When you are operating full throttle, it is easy to forget the weightier matters. Our success in the gospel is wholly dependent on our connection to Jesus.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5)

When we focus on outward actions--even righteous ones--while forgetting the inward vessel, we disconnect ourselves from Jesus. We have to prevent our hearts from focusing on the things of this world, even when our focus on the things of this world is solely to do God's will:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John  2:15)

"The world" goes far beyond the things we regularly associate with it (riches, comfort, sex, etc.). It includes everything we do here. "The world" can include earning an honest living, giving food to the homeless, Sunday worship services, etc. None of these things are internal. They are all external. While these things can help us develop our "treasure in heaven" they themselves are not the treasure--our character is. Building that character requires godly actions, but godly actions can be and are done by those with wicked hearts. When we focus so much on the what that we forget the why, our hearts become unconnected from God, and that is a monumentally bad thing.

While God expects us to be fully leveraged in how we use our time, talents, and energy, he expects us to always keep ourselves spiritually tethered to him. This manifests itself in how we treat others, particularly others who interfere with our external actions.

How do we stay tethered? We must remember him always. If he is the focus, we can't go wrong.
“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6, 7)
When we are focused on Jesus, how can we be frustrated when things do not turn out the way we want them to? Frustration comes when we put our expectations above his will. When others prevent our expected outcomes, we can still have the peace of God, because we are focused on pleasing him, achieving internal and not external outcomes.

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:26, 27)

Jesus' peace is not of this world, and his kingdom is not of this world.  His kingdom is not of this world because it doesn't look like what the world calls a kingdom. There is no power-by-force. There is only power-by-submission and persuasion. God's peace is not like what the world calls peace. It is not an externally induced calm or comfort. You can have his peace even when everything in this world goes wrong. Jesus had peace even when he was surrounded by fools, cowards, betrayers, and those who wanted to kill him. He did not get frustrated when his mission was complicated by the actions (or inactions) of others. He knew that if he was doing what he could in the framework provided, he would please the father, and that's all that mattered.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

His peace has nothing to do with what positive things might be happening in your life, or what others are doing. It has everything to do with your inner peace and disconnection from the temporal outcome of your actions, no matter how leveraged you might be.

Examples of balance

Nephi is a wonderful example of the balance we are describing here. There is no question that he leveraged his life to the hilt to do God's work, yet he was always tethered to God's commandments. One example of this is the return to Jerusalem for the plates. Nephi did not lose it when his brothers' lack of faith resulted in a failed mission. He simply tried again, realizing that God's purposes could not be frustrated by man. The effort exerted on this trip was exceptional. Despite that leverage, Nephi still instantly unplugged it all and acted consistently with godly character. Another example is given when Nephi's bow breaks. Here they are, a large group dealing with brutal survival conditions. In the thick of all the strain that such a situation brings, their prime tool--Nephi's bow--breaks. The rest of the crew, including Nephi's otherwise stalwart father--lose their minds. Nephi simply goes and makes another bow. This is a time consuming and effort-intensive activity. Despite hunger, stress, and the hostility of others, he displays a godly character. In token of his connection to Jesus, he then prays before going to hunt so that the Lord will lead him to food. Nephi was both fully leveraged and fully tethered.

How we balance

If we knew all hearts, I think we would find that everyone falls on one side of the balance. Each person is either too apathetic towards their works or too concerned about them. The secret to balance is to understand the phrase "within the bounds the Lord has set." It is good to be able to disconnect your spiritual well being from the works of your hands, but if it gets to the point where you are leaving things undone that God wills you to do, it becomes sin. On the other hand, it is good to be able to fully invest your time, talents, and energy into the Lord's work, but it becomes sin when you neglect the weightier matters: treating other people as God treats you. No success in this life is worth violating God's commandment to love another. It is ironic that some are violating that commandment by overfocusing on outward things that they believe they need to do to keep it.