When my daughter was 12, she said to me, “Mommy, every time I try to make cookies, they always turn our yucky! They are terrible!” So, I proceeded to ask her about what she was doing when she made these cookies. What recipe did she have? Did she read it through before she started to make the cookies? Did she have all the ingredients? Did she have the right ingredients? Did she follow the recipe exactly?
She went on to tell me that she had done everything that she was supposed to do and it just did not turn out. “My cookies are like rubber!” she cried out in frustration. Although there are some recipes that you can get away with altering a little, many are not as forgiving, especially in baking. Well, we were never quite able to figure out what happened that made her cookies turn out “like rubber,” but she was beginning to learn that baking, like many things in life, require one to follow a prescribed method in order to achieve the desired results. We are tempted at times, when things are just slightly off, to say, “oh that’s okay, I can live with that.” However, we fail to realize that, that one little change can alter the whole outcome.
I see a lot of parallel between these life experiences and obedience to God. Although I don’t think of obedience as a science, I do feel many of the principles between the two are similar. For example, the desired outcome of obedience is perfection and getting the desired results takes time, practice and patience.
This principle I am talking about is best illustrated in a talk I heard by Dieter Uchtdorf a few years ago.*
For my purposes, I will share a story from it:
In 1979 a large passenger jet with 257 people on board left New Zealand for a sightseeing flight to Antarctica and back. Unknown to the pilots, however, someone had modified the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees. This error placed the aircraft 28 miles (45 km) to the east of where the pilots assumed they were. As they approached Antarctica, the pilots descended to a lower altitude to give the passengers a better look at the landscape. Although both were experienced pilots, neither had made this particular flight before, and they had no way of knowing that the incorrect coordinates had placed them directly in the path of Mount Erebus, an active volcano that rises from the frozen landscape to a height of more than 12,000 feet (3,700 m).
As the pilots flew onward, the white of the snow and ice covering the volcano blended with the white of the clouds above, making it appear as though they were flying over flat ground. By the time the instruments sounded the warning that the ground was rising fast toward them, it was too late. The airplane crashed into the side of the volcano, killing everyone on board.
It was a terrible tragedy brought on by a minor error—a matter of only a few degrees.
Further into his remarks he makes this correlation:
Suppose you were to take off from an airport at the equator, intending to circumnavigate the globe, but your course was off by just one degree. By the time you returned to the same longitude, how far off course would you be? A few miles? A hundred miles? The answer might surprise you. An error of only one degree would put you almost 500 miles (800 km) off course, or one hour of flight for a jet.
No one wants his life to end in tragedy. But all too often, like the pilots and passengers of the sightseeing flight, we set out on what we hope will be an exciting journey only to realize too late that an error of a few degrees has set us on a course for spiritual disaster.
Like Kati and her cookies or like the pilot in the story, our lives revolve around the day-to-day decisions we make. Some have small consequences, and others, like the pilots, have disastrous ones. So the question begs to be asked, “How do we keep ourselves from making decisions that land us places that we don’t want to be?”
Obviously, this whole blog could center on this theme, but for my purposes, I will just focus on one little portion of my experience that has led me to a small understanding of obedience and decision making.
My life has been fraught with decisions I have made that I have found myself later feverishly trying to clean up the messes. Good grief! What I have done to myself because of my decisions!? But, what I did then means nothing when I compare what I had to do to “clean up” my “act.”
To say the least, my life has been challenging. I fully acknowledge that it has been so because of the decisions I made. The resulting consequences led me to much self-deprecation and misunderstanding about my worth as a child of God. Eventually, through much effort, I came to see that it was my willfulness in wanting to do things “my way” which led to my pockmarked life.
It is hard to be honest with ourselves.
It is hard to face the reality that we have made decisions that have landed us somewhere where we really don’t want to be. This is where I found myself when I finally let the following scripture sink into my soul:
And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers. –Abraham 1:2
This hit me like a rock. Abraham was a follower of righteousness and he desired in his life to be a greater follower of righteousness. Oh that I might be filled with this desire wherein I yearned for greater righteousness and obedience in my life! I loved reading the following quote in relation to this yearning:
“Desire is a particle of faith that develops within us as we experience divine truth. It is like spiritual photosynthesis. The influence of the Holy Ghost, acting on the Light of Christ within every human being, produces the spiritual equivalent of a chemical reaction—a stirring, a change of heart, or a desire to know. Kevin Pearson, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ General Conference, April 2009.
Spiritual Photosynthesis ~ I love this analogy!
These thoughts slowly permeated through the rocky crevices of my heart and soul and I began to feel the same desire. Knowing my life was not where I wanted it to be, and believing for a very long time that I had completely messed it up, I wanted to “switch course” and make my final destination where it should be instead of where it was headed. I pondered over this scripture for a very long time. While doing so, I also made it a matter of prayer, “help me to desire greater righteousness in my life.”
This query eventually led me to another scripture:
That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. D&C 121:36
Wow!!! The powers of Heaven cannot be controlled nor handled ONLY upon the principles of righteousness! As you can imagine, my heart and mind were stirred to greater activity as I began to contemplate these things.
What does it mean to be righteous?
What part does obedience play in the pursuit of righteousness?
Is faith a key activator in the pursuit of obedience and righteousness?
Ultimately, I found myself asking this question: What does it mean to be righteous enough to activate the powers of Heaven?
I found an answer to these questions in several places.
From Bruce R McConkie:
“Faith is a gift of God bestowed as a reward for personal righteousness. It is always given when righteousness is present and, the greater the measure of obedience to God’s laws, the greater will be the endowment of faith” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 264).
From General Conference
“Desire, hope, and belief are forms of faith, but faith as a principle of power comes from a consistent pattern of obedient behavior and attitudes. Personal righteousness is a choice. Faith is a gift from God, and one possessed of it can receive enormous spiritual power.” Kevin Pearson, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ General Conference, April 2009.
In the Doctrine & Covenants we learn:
There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. (D&C 130:20-21)
I have concluded that faith unto obedience is first in the pursuit of personal righteousness. Our faith is implemented by our desire to do right. Because these feelings “swell” in our breasts, our desires for greater obedience are activated and righteousness will then most certainly follow as we pursue a course pleasing to and in line with our Heavenly Father’s Will.
Kati has since grown up into a lovely young woman who is very proficient in the kitchen. She has learned to follow the recipes and as a result, come up with perfect results.
If only life could be so easy!! Living a life making the right decisions all the time is not quite so simple when everything is factored in, but we can greatly minimize disastrous results by keeping our eye “on the mark,” even Jesus Christ. Strict obedience and submission are two of the keys to obtaining the end result of righteous living and the eventual prize of living with our Heavenly Father and His Son. We want to carefully consider the Savior’s promise: “If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me” (Moroni 7:33). I am learning the fulfillment of this promise by degrees and I am ever grateful for His constant show of patience with me as I try to keep my life on track through faith and obedience.
*Dieter Uchtdorf: http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/a-matter-of-a-few-degrees?lang=eng