Friday, August 1, 2008

Submission vs. Selfishness in the Book of Mormon

Start with Storytelling

Seven years ago I had a series of dreams....
I’d been sufficiently humbled by some recent harrowing experiences and therefore was in a more receptive frame of mind than usual. :) Rich symbols and content made these dreams stand out as spiritually significant, and I recognized them as a form of personal revelation.

One spoke of the influence of extended family on our children, and another spoke of a new home, away from California; of an amazing gift that I could never repay. In my earliest waking hours, as I pondered the dreams, their message became clear: The Lord intended us to move to Utah.

At first I felt a reluctance to leave my comfort zone: My immediate reaction was a flow of tears, and a silent protest: “No, Please No!”

School, missions and marriage had brought both of us to southern California, over and over again. We honestly felt that was where the Lord wanted and needed us to serve. At church we held meaningful callings, had opportunities to contribute to the Kingdom there, and our ward was filled with amazing role models who loved us as much as we loved them. Our friends there had become our surrogate family. Most of all, just months ago we’d buried our baby there.

However, I remembered the goodness of God (particularly in my recent trials) and I could not say no. In a matter of moments I succumbed, knelt down and tearfully promised the Lord, “I’ll go where you want me to go.” Then for three full years I waited, more or less “pondering these things in my heart” (Luke 2:19), and at times wondering if perhaps we wouldn’t have to move after all.

When the time was right, we both knew. After all, we’d had three years to get used to the idea! I knew Jeff would get the job at BYU, knew our house would sell, knew it was time to go.
There were many steps involved in our final move, including job applications, buying and selling of houses, and painful goodbyes. Each required Faith, Trust, Courage, and Commitment to leave everything we know and love and journey into the relative unknown wilderness of Utah.

(Single out Specifics: Pattern)

Most of the resultant blessings are easily recognized:
Here we are. (Maybe the promised land).
The children are in better schools, our house is fully paid for, beautiful mountains surround us, with deer and quail in the back yard, Jeff’s work has been even better than we expected, and unforeseen additional career opportunities have arisen. We have more time for me to spend with our children. (We've had our needs met, and more, to the point that we’re in awe of the unexpected blessings!)

We don’t know what else the Lord has in store for us here, but we know this is where we’re supposed to be right now.

Strive for Synthesis: Likening

The Book of Mormon also begins with the story of one family, instructed in a dream to leave their dream house and their comfort zone, and be led by God through a series of unknowns.

(Single out Specifics: Pattern)

There were varying levels of Faith, Trust, Courage, Commitment:
  • Lehi went willingly, and obediently. (1 Nephi 2:2-4)
  • Nephi sought confirmation and also followed willingly. (1 Nephi 11)
  • Laman and Lemuel whined the entire time. Went, but with lousy attitude, contantly threatening to return to Jerusalem. (Notice no one complained when they were instructed to obtain wives, however.) :)

Resultant blessings:
Led to Promised Land
Had Scriptures and Liahona
Serendipitous abundance -- needs met and much more
Righteous posterity for those who continued to submit

One great example of non-submission (besides Laman and Lemuel) was Zeniff. I used to think that segment was more of a segue, but in the last couple of years I’m come to see its significance.

Strive for Synthesis: Likening
Zeniff is like us. We’re not as wicked as King Noah, just fail to submit in subtler ways sometimes. Zeniff was a pretty good guy, but he got this idea in his head, described as “an over-zealousness to obtain the land of [his] inheritance.” (Here we see selfishness, impatience, and a sense of entitlement.)

More Storytelling
He convinced a group to venture there with him, and experienced much affliction en route because “they were slow to remember the Lord their God.“ He was also a bit of a schmoozer, and lacked discernment -- Zeniff mistakenly thought King Laman was his buddy, but he turned out to be a crafty, conniving double-crosser with a plan of his own (much like Satan operates). He allowed them to settle there with cunning plans to eventually overtake them. In the meantime, they they moved right in and started landscaping and remodeling.

King Laman felt a bit threatened by their progress, and decided to assemble armies against them. Even though Zeniff repented and began to rely on the Lord’s strength in battle, his earlier headstrong behavior and lack of submission had long-lasting consequences, resulting in numerous wars and roughly three generations of bondage.

In fact the entire Book of Mormon becomes a text on submission vs. selfishness. As I’ve studied it this past week, there appear to be five types and levels of submission:

Sketch the Skeleton

1. Honoring: Submitting to a parent, leader or spouse in righteousness. Sariah “complained against her husband” at one point, fearing their sons’ demise and calling Lehi “a visionary man”. Lehi in turn submitted to her, “I am a visionary man.” then went on to remind her the positive aspects of that, and that they truly were being led by the Lord. In D&C 6 The Lord instructs Oliver Cowdry to “be diligent; stand by my servant Joseph faithfully, in whatsoever difficult circumstances.” In the next verse he tells him to give and receive counsel without getting defensive, then reminds him TWICE to be patient. (Strive for synthesis) We have covenanted to honor our spouses and the priesthood in that way.

2. Obedience: Just plain keeping the commandments. The book of Mormon tells us countless times that we’ll prosper if we keep the commandments, but if not we’ll be cut off from the presence of God. Nephi’s obedience is exemplary and familiar to us. (Single out specifics: Pattern) Listen for the Faith, Trust, Courage, and Commitment he exhibits in these oft-quoted verses: 1 Ne. 3:7 “I will go and do... for I know...He shall prepare a way.” Sometimes we don't yet know why, just what: “I know that He loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” (1 Nephi 11:17) At times just understanding God’s love was enough for Nephi to submit.

3. Yielding: Willingness to be led by Spirit and follow promptings. A great example is Nephi obtaining the plates from Laban... "I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.” (1 Nephi 4:6)

Elder Maxwell said: “To the extent that we are not willing to be led by the Lord, we will, instead be driven by our appetites and be preoccupied with the lesser things and the pressing cares of the day. (King Benjamin’s Speech: A Manual for Discipleship, FARMS, 1998)”

Therefore King Benjamin admonishes us to “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and put off the natural man and become a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and become as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love.” (Mosiah 3:19)

(Strive for Synthesis)
Almost every night when I tuck 6-year-old Jeremiah into bed, he asks me to scratch his back and sing “How Gentle God’s Commands.” This small child finds comfort and security in hearing about God’s infinite goodness, how we can trust in His constant care, and how the very things we’re asked to do are in essence kind and gentle gifts. The line “That hand which bears all nature up shall guard His children well” inspires complete trust. I hope that through the words of that hymn, which he now knows by heart, Jeremiah’s developing the seeds of submission: Faith, trust, courage, commitment. (Single out Specifics: Pattern)

- Yielding also includes being guided in our prayers (asking for that which is right) When Jesus ministered to the saints in 3rd Nephi, it says: “And it was given them what they should pray...”
(3 Ne. 19:24) Even our prayers should be submissive and inspired.

3. Bearing: Accepting trials -- even the Abrahamic ones -- with grace. (e.g: Job, Joseph Smith, Alma and his people.) This is what King Benjamin refers to when he asks us to “become as a child, submissive, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosaih 3:19) The Lord made this easier for Alma and his people in Mosiah 24. Although he would not yet remove their trials, he told them: “I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage;...And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.” (Strive for Synthesis: Likening) I’ve had my own burdens lightened many times by the Lord, sometimes to the point that I didn’t even realize the tremendous load I was carrying until someone else pointed it out to me.

This includes those trials where our submission reaps a seemingly undesirable outcome, (e.g. Zion’s Camp, a difficult and seemingly failed journey which resulted in the training, selection and preparation of much of the early church’s leadership.)
Faith, trust, courage, commitment. (Single out Specifics: Patterns)

4. Consecration: Unflinching, unhesitating giving of all that we have and are to the Lord. Following Chirst as true disciples, submitting fully to the point that we have the mind of Christ and turn our very lives over to him. Pres Kimball said: "If we do merely our conventional duty in the church, we will not have proven valiant.” Elder Maxwell added: "If we are serious about our discipleship, Jesus will eventually request each of us to do those very things which are most difficult for us to do.” (A Time to Choose, 1972 Deseret Book)

e.g: Abinadi would not relent until he had delivered his message -- and given his life. Like Jesus, Abinadi let his own will be “swallowed up in the will of the Father.” (Mosiah 15:7) Total submission.

In contrast, King Noah arrogantly refused to submit. “Who is Abinadi?” and “Who is the Lord?” that they should tell me what to do? Mosiah 11 says he “did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart.” We see this in his incredible indolence, “riotous living” and licentious behavior. This supposed “freedom” brought severe taxation and bondage to his people. His cruel murder of Abinadi ironically brought about his own death, by the same manner.

The Nephites who saw and followed Christ submitted fully, consecrating all that they had: “And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.” (4 Nephi 1:3) 4 Nephi tells us: “Surely there could not be a happier people among all who had been created by the hand of God....And how blessed were they!”, enjoying 200 years of peace.

See the Savior
Ultimate example of submission: The Atonement.
Jesus, creator of the world, son of God was still astonished at the pain and suffering required for the atonement. Even with his Godlike understanding, he was not prepared for the enormity of that experience in its fullness. It was much, much worse than even He had imagined, to the point that he wanted to shrink:
Matt. 26: 39: And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

Strive for Synthesis
He requires a similar surrender of will from us:
(3 Ne. 18: 8) “And it came to pass that when he said these words, he commanded his Disciples that they should take of the... cup and drink of it, and that they should also give unto the multitude that they might drink of it.”

As we take the sacrament, we partake of a far less bitter cup than the Savior’s, yet we promise to come unto Christ, and partake of his salvation, and offer our whole souls unto him in return. (Omni 1:26).

I pray we can all have the faith, trust, courage and commitment to follow the Savior wherever he may lead us.

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