For nearly the last year, I’ve served side by side with my bishop, a man for who I have profound respect and love. He has a gift for hearing and listening to the Spirit. It was a quality I first noticed when we served together in the Young Men’s organization, an attribute I admired and desired for in my own life. I’m very analytical and my bishop has always made me feel like my opinion was valued. (I’m also very outspoken, so he would have heard it anyway.) We evaluate all our options and use the information we have at our disposal, but the final say is ceded to the Spirit.
Any Latter-day Saint can tell you the wisdom in having Spiritual confirmation. The wisdom I’ve learned from serving with my bishop is how to define success. What do I mean by this? Having a spiritual experience is always a faith-promoting experience. But what happens if the result of following through isn’t what you planned out? For many, the faith gained from the spiritual experience can be lost and then some as a result.
On more than one occasion, I’ve heard my bishop utter the phrase, “This could be an abject failure, but I know we’re supposed to do this.” We constantly remind ourselves that we’re judged on our obedience to follow promptings, not on the result of having followed them. We fall into mental and spiritual anguish when we apply our own logic and reasons for which we are asked to do things. Let’s take a look at some examples:
- What of the person who rejects the calling after you received confirmation that they were to be called?
- What of the person that accepted the calling, but didn’t magnify it or even fulfill some or all of their basic responsibilities?
- What of the person you were prompted to visit, who quickly rejected your outreach?
If our sole indicator of whether or not the prompting we received came from the Spirit is whether or not we experienced success as we define it, we are in for a world of disappointment and our faith will constantly be tried. It also demonstrates a lack an understanding or appreciation of the moral agency of others.
Is it possible the Lord’s definition of success in each of the above cases may be different from ours?
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.Isaiah 55:8-9
What if the Lord had prompted us to make a calling simply so that we could visit a brother or sister in need, even if they didn’t accept? What if the result of the calling was for the betterment of that brother or sister for future callings or assignments, even if it didn’t go as well as we hoped this time? What if the Lord simply wanted to test our obedience, just as he did with Abraham? “There’s no way the Lord would want us to call so and so,” we might murmur, thinking we know better than He. There could be a million reasons we can’t even fathom.
In addition, how can we ever be judged for not taking an opportunity if we were never offered? We read from the Book of Mormon a more extreme example of this principle:
And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.
And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.
And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day. (Alma 14:8-11)
While the examples I’ve given may come from a different point of view, we can apply this principle to our thinking in all aspects of our life. “This may be an abject failure in the eyes of men, but I know the Lord asked it of me, and I’ll obey.” We can apply it when reading about Church History. We can apply it when we listen to General Conference and we may question why something is being done. We can apply it in our dealings with our local leaders and our families.
It’s a wonderful thing to truly have faith in an all-knowing and loving Heavenly Father and the peace that comes with aligning ourselves with Him, rather than forcing our definition of success upon Him and His leaders. Our aspirations will always fall way short of what He has planned for us. Trust Him.
“Consecrate Thy Performance” – Elder Neal A. Maxwell, April 2002
“Trial of Your Faith” – Elder Neil L. Andersen, October 2012
“Murmur Not” – Elder Neal A. Maxwell, October 1989
You can follow Dustin on Twitter at @dmturner1232.