Saturday, June 1, 2013

“Obedience Brings Blessings”: Thoughts on President Monson’s April 2013 talk


This was one of those talks when I wondered how I was going to find anything to say because after all, how can you get more basic than obedience?  It is easy to think that you know all there is to know already.  Still, I found when reading through it that there are hidden depths to this talk.  It is simple, yet profound. 

The first key I found to help me get my head around it was the title, “Obedience Brings Blessings.”  I asked myself, What blessings does President Monson say come from obedience?  I read through it a second time, looking specifically for any kind of blessing, no matter how small.  I found the talk to be chock full of blessings, twenty-four (no, actually twenty-five) of them, some of them unexpected, and often in unexpected places.

The first five blessings of obedience I recognized in a scripture that President Monson quoted. 

“The Spirit of truth is of God. …
“And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments.
“He that keepeth [God’s] commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.” (D&C 93:26-28)

So the blessings are:
·      a fullness (of the Spirit of truth)
·      receive truth
·      receive light
·      glorified in truth
·      knowing all things

Now, granted, some of these blessings do not come immediately.  For instance, being obedient now doesn’t mean that we will know all things immediately.  But I anticipate that if we keep on we eventually will.   Likewise, we do not receive the fullness at first, (just as Jesus didn’t receive the fullness at first, but received grace for grace, see D&C 93:12), or become glorified in truth immediately, but again, if we keep on being obedient, we eventually will.  These are blessings we can look forward to.

Yet we can receive truth and light all along the way.  (Yaaay!)  Every little bit is important!

There is no need for you or for me, in this enlightened age when the fulness of the gospel has been restored, to sail uncharted seas or to travel unmarked roads in search of truth. A loving Heavenly Father has plotted our course and provided an unfailing guide—even obedience. A knowledge of truth and the answers to our greatest questions come to us as we are obedient to the commandments of God.

When we are young, much of our first 20-25 years is pretty well marked out for us.  School, mission, college, marriage, children… and beyond that, things seem wide open.  But what if children aren’t coming?  Or what if you can’t find someone to marry?  Or what if college education is interrupted or not an option because of financial situation?   What then?   In the above paragraph, President Monson says that answers to some of our greatest questions come to us as we are obedient to the commandments of God.  It is as if our obedience to our duty puts us on a trajectory that will intersect with the answers and opportunities we need. 

Just to give an example, my second year of college at BYU, Heavenly Father sent me the impression that I needed to get a job.  After fighting it for a week, I submitted and applied to work on campus.  I didn’t get find a job immediately, but I did find one, and it was at that job that I met my husband.  Being obedient to the prompting from Heavenly Father put me on a course that brought me to the answer of my question, “Who shall I marry?”

Life would be simpler for all of us if we would obey such rules completely. Many of us, however, learn through experience the wisdom of being obedient.

Here we see another blessing of obedience is a simpler life.  Life is pretty complex today, but disobedience makes it way more difficult because instead of working towards your goals, you also have to deal with fallout from disobedience, which usually includes an abridgement of freedom in some way.   Also, when we’re not obedient, we have to come up with other methods to get around what we don’t want to do, but those methods cause unintended and unpleasant consequences, which means we have to find ways of coping, and if those coping methods don’t involve repenting and returning to obedience, we will just dig ourselves deeper and deeper…    Compared to that, obedience makes things pretty simple.

There are rules and laws to help ensure our physical safety. Likewise, the Lord has provided guidelines and commandments to help ensure our spiritual safety so that we might successfully navigate this often-treacherous mortal existence and return eventually to our Heavenly Father.

So, according to Monson, obedience also blesses us with:
·      physical safety,
·      spiritual safety, and
·      successful navigation through our often-treacherous mortal existence to return to Heaven Father.

Here’s another blessing of obedience President Monson mentions:

In this dispensation, the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that He requires “the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.”

The willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.  What is the good of the land of Zion?  There are several things to it could refer to, both temporal and spiritual.  It could be that the righteous poor will be assisted with food from the bishop’s storehouse.   It might be an oblique reference to the sacrament bread, which is certainly spiritually filling to the willing and obedient Saints.  It might also be calling our attention to the wonderful truths of the gospel that only the willing and obedient can truly appreciate, as Nephi said the wicked take the truth to be hard, but the righteous love the truth.  Annnnnd, it also evokes an image of a community of Saints in the land of Zion at last, eating fruits from their fields that they harvested.

All prophets, ancient and modern, have known that obedience is essential to our salvation.

There’s another blessing of obedience—salvation.  While we also know that obedience would be useless without faith in Christ’s atonement, it is also true that obedience runs like a gold thread through the other first principles of the gospel.  Repenting, receiving baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost are all done because of obedience.

Nephi declared, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.”5 Though others faltered in their faith and their obedience, never once did Nephi fail to do that which the Lord asked of him. Untold generations have been blessed as a result.

Did you catch that?  “Untold generations have been blessed as a result [of Nephi’s obedience].”  Another blessing of obedience is that that the positive effects reach down through the ages through one’s descendants.  Obedience inspires throughout time; we are encouraged by Nephi’s “I will go and do” determination.  Also, the plates that Nephi retrieved from Jerusalem enabled his descendants to obey with exactness because they could reference the actual records with the commandments on them. 

Abraham had been tried and tested, and for his faithfulness and obedience the Lord gave him this glorious promise: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.”

Here’s another blessing of obedience—in our seed all the nations of the earth are blessed.  This happens because our obedience helps us stay worthy to enter the temple where we can perform vicarious ordinance work for the dead. 

Declared President Joseph F. Smith in October 1873, “Obedience is the first law of heaven.”

If obedience is the first law of heaven, then another blessing of obedience that we can extract is it fits us to live in heaven and enjoy it.

Said President Gordon B. Hinckley, “The happiness of the Latter-day Saints, the peace of the Latter-day Saints, the progress of the Latter-day Saints, the prosperity of the Latter-day Saints, and the eternal salvation and exaltation of this people lie in walking in obedience to the counsels of … God.”

There are a bunch of blessings of obedience listed in the above paragraph.  They are:
·      Happiness
·      Peace
·      Progress
·      Prosperity
·      Eternal salvation
·      exaltation

Obedience is a hallmark of prophets; it has provided strength and knowledge to them throughout the ages. It is essential for us to realize that we, as well, are entitled to this source of strength and knowledge. It is readily available to each of us today as we obey God’s commandments.

Another blessing of obedience we learn in the above paragraph is that it gives us strength (which is essentially the grace of God, or enabling power) and knowledge. 

President Monson then shared the story of Walter Krause and his home teaching companion who traveled through Europe to visit Johann Denndorfer, who eagerly gave them the tithing money he had saved for years without knowing when he’d be able to pay it. 

I wondered if I could find some blessings of obedience in this story, and I had to look very carefully, but I finally found some. 

Away the two home teaching companions went to visit Brother Denndorfer, traveling by train and bus from the northeastern area of Germany to Debrecen, Hungary—a substantial journey. Brother Denndorfer had not had home teachers since before the war. Now, when he saw these servants of the Lord, he was overwhelmed with gratitude that they had come. At first he declined to shake hands with them. Rather, he went to his bedroom and took from a small cabinet a box containing his tithing that he had saved for years. He presented the tithing to his home teachers and said, “Now I am current with the Lord. Now I feel worthy to shake the hands of servants of the Lord!” Brother Krause told me later that he had been touched beyond words to think that this faithful brother, who had no contact with the Church for many years, had obediently and consistently taken from his meager earnings 10 percent with which to pay his tithing. He had saved it not knowing when or if he might have the privilege of paying it. (emphasis added)

Both Brother Krause (the home teacher) and Brother Denndorfer (the home taught) received blessings of obedience.  Brother Denndorfer, upon passing on his carefully saved tithing was blessed to feel worthy to shake hands with servants of the Lord.  Feeling worthy is a very important blessing of obedience.   Brother Krause was blessed through his obedient home teaching efforts to feel deeply touched by Brother Denndorfer’s faithfulness.  This tells us that when we are obedient, learning of others’ obedience will move us deeply and fill us with joy, as the light within us cleaves to the light in others. 

Brother Walter Krause passed away nine years ago at the age of 94. He served faithfully and obediently throughout his life and was an inspiration to me and to all who knew him.

Here we see another blessing of obedience—that of inspiring all who know us.  This is a great blessing, especially to those of us who dearly yearn to make a difference in the world.  We yearn to influence others for good and to have that carried far beyond our sight.  Obedience helps us do that, though we won’t know in this life how far the reach has extended.

Declared the Savior, “For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.”

Here is another result of obedience—receiving a blessing at the hands of Christ.  I can imagine all sorts of ways this may play out.  Calling and election made sure.  A personal visit.  A ministration after the Second Coming.   Or simply the fact that Christ is the channel by which blessings come to us.

The knowledge which we seek, the answers for which we yearn, and the strength which we desire today to meet the challenges of a complex and changing world can be ours when we willingly obey the Lord’s commandments. I quote once again the words of the Lord: “He that keepeth [God’s] commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.”

Reiterated in this paragraph are blessings of obedience that I have previously noted:
·      Answers for which we yearn
·      Strength to meet the challenges of a complex and changing world
·      Truth
·      Light
·      Glorification in truth
·      Knowing all things

Okay.  So we need to sum up with a list that brings all the above together.  Put in more of a logical order, the blessings of obedience are:
1.     Receiving truth
2.     Receiving light
3.     A simpler life
4.     Answers to our greatest questions
5.     Successful navigation through our often-treacherous mortal existence
6.     Strength/grace
7.     Physical safety
8.     Spiritual safety
9.     Progress
10.  Prosperity
11.  The privilege of eating the good of the land of Zion in these last days
12.  Happiness
13.  Peace
14.  Feeling worthy to be with the Saints and servants of God
15.  The capacity to be touched and moved by others’ faithful acts
16.  Preparing to be comfortable in heaven
17.  Becoming an inspiration to all who know us
18.  Our seed will bless all nations of the earth
19.  Blessing untold generations
20.  Receiving a blessing at the hands of Christ.
21.  Glorification in truth
22.  Coming to know all things
23.  A fullness (of the Spirit of truth)
24.  Eternal salvation
25.  Exaltation

See? Twenty-five blessings!  Obedience is a big deal!

Now, this talk isn’t only about the blessings of obedience.  It also contains warnings about the consequences of disobedience.  These warnings are contained in the story of the little grassfire he and his friend Danny caused in Vivian Park when they were about eight years old. 

One morning Danny and I decided we wanted to have a campfire that evening with all our canyon friends. We just needed to clear an area in a nearby field where we could all gather. The June grass which covered the field had become dry and prickly, making the field unsuitable for our purposes. We began to pull at the tall grass, planning to clear a large, circular area. We tugged and yanked with all our might, but all we could get were small handfuls of the stubborn weeds. We knew this task would take the entire day, and already our energy and enthusiasm were waning.  And then what I thought was the perfect solution came into my eight-year-old mind. I said to Danny, “All we need is to set these weeds on fire. We’ll just burn a circle in the weeds!” He readily agreed, and I ran to our cabin to get a few matches.

This says to me that we may be tempted to disobey when our energy and enthusiasm for hard work toward a worthy goal drains away.  It is then that we start to look around for shortcuts.  Therefore, we need to be particularly careful at times when we are impatient or fatigued. 

Lest any of you think that at the tender age of eight we were permitted to use matches, I want to make it clear that both Danny and I were forbidden to use them without adult supervision. Both of us had been warned repeatedly of the dangers of fire.

Disobedience is especially sad when one has been forbidden and warned repeatedly from the acts committed.

However, I knew where my family kept the matches, and we needed to clear that field. Without so much as a second thought, I ran to our cabin and grabbed a few matchsticks, making certain no one was watching. I hid them quickly in one of my pockets.
Back to Danny I ran, excited that in my pocket I had the solution to our problem. I recall thinking that the fire would burn only as far as we wanted and then would somehow magically extinguish itself.

Just as young Thomas Monson and Danny Larsen thought they needed to clear the field with matches, we may deceive ourselves into thinking that we need our disobedient acts. 

Also note eight-year-old Thomas Monson made sure to take the matches when no one was watching and to hide them in his pocket, which is perfectly analogous to how we seek to conceal our disobedient acts from others.  The impulse of secrecy is a tip-off that what we are doing is wrong.

Eight-year-old Thomas Monson’s determination to take the forbidden matches “without so much as a second thought” is similar to how some of our disobedience occurs almost on impulse.  Satan would love for us to avoid thinking or weighing our actions carefully.

Just as eight-year-old Thomas Monson was sure that matches were the solution to his problem, we are disobedient because we see it as an easier solution to a problem.  Lying, cheating, stealing, addictive substances, immorality, murder, and all other sins can all be seen as ways that people attempt to solve their very real problems.  Unfortunately, disobedience is a problem-creator and problem-expander, rather than a solution.

Just as eight-year-old Thomas Monson thought that the fire would burn only as far as was wanted, we often think our disobedience will only have a very limited effect in our lives.  We think what we do in private doesn’t hurt anyone else. 

I struck a match on a rock and set the parched June grass ablaze. It ignited as though it had been drenched in gasoline. At first Danny and I were thrilled as we watched the weeds disappear, but it soon became apparent that the fire was not about to go out on its own. We panicked as we realized there was nothing we could do to stop it. The menacing flames began to follow the wild grass up the mountainside, endangering the pine trees and everything else in their path.

The image of spreading fire in dry grass is a very good analogy for the real effects of disobedience in our lives, although we may not be able to see all the effects as we would with an out-of-control grassfire.

Also, the way President Monson describes his eight-year-old self’s emotional response is quite telling:
Thrilled – Disobedience can be thrilling at first, when you think it is solving the problem.  You think you’re getting away with something.
Panicked—When you see that the effects of your disobedience are spreading beyond your ability to control it, it is very scary.  It is terrible to see disobedience corrupting others.

Finally we had no option but to run for help. Soon all available men and women at Vivian Park were dashing back and forth with wet burlap bags, beating at the flames in an attempt to extinguish them. After several hours the last remaining embers were smothered. The ages-old pine trees had been saved, as were the homes the flames would eventually have reached.

If disobedience can’t be stopped quickly, it is harder to quell it.  It may create danger for everything and everyone around us.  It takes time to get it under control. We need to get help, particularly help from the Savior. 

More thoughts

President Monson also mentioned the story of Abraham offering of Isaac, which is, I think one of the gold standards of obedience; Abraham was obedient immediately without asking why.  Over a lifetime Abraham had built up to that moment by determinedly obeying commandments and listening to the Spirit so that he knew without question the source of the command and he was ready to obey, even though the commandment would result in great loss to him. 

I really like the scripture in the D&C that states that the Lord is bound when we do what he says, but that we have no promise if we don’t.  (I have a special connection to it because it is quoted in my patriarchal blessing.)  I think it is really neat that we have special revelation that our obedience actually binds the Lord to bless us.  This is much different from what other Christian denominations teach.  They teach that we can’t and shouldn’t expect blessings from keeping commandments and that we should only obey out of love for the Lord.   While it is true that we should obey out of love, I believe that part of our growth process involves obeying out of any particular motive that encourages us to obey at the time, and when we are growing up and learning how the world works, we are also trying to learn how the Lord works.  The knowledge that obedience to the Lord binds Him to bless us encourages us to experiment to see how we will be blessed.  It also helps us progress toward obedience out of love.   It also teaches us that God isn’t capricious about blessing us when we are obedient; He is consistent.

Other blogs that comment on this talk:

Obedience Brings Blessings - Truth and Light (Armor of God)

Obedience Brings Blessings - Disobedience Brings Consequences  (Armor of God)

Why Prophets to Proclaim TRUTH? If NOT a People Willing to Obey?(A Well-Behaved Mormon Woman)

Ideas for teaching from this talk:
Ask the class to read through the talk and look for as many blessings of obedience as they can find.
Ask the class if they have any experiences to share in which they made a choice to obey a commandment that was difficult for them and then were blessed.
Ask the class if they have any experiences to share in which answers to their greatest questions came in the course of being obedient to the commandments.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow! Love your insights. Just one little complaint: it's very difficult to read your posts. If all the text were black on this background it would probably help a lot. I have to copy it to another program to be able to enjoy reading it! It's still worth the effort--just a little frustrating.

Ramona Gordy said...

Michaela
The insights you have shared are quite thorough, and in reading them, a light bulb moment for me; is that obedience is the perfect example of what an eternal truth is.
I have been pondering over the concept of obedience and disobedience and it's consequences. I heard a talk concerning King Saul. In a conflict with one of Israel's arch enemy the Amalekites,the command was to destroy every man, woman and child; even animals.

So, he didn't, he left some alive, including a king, whom Samuel had to kill. On that day, in that moment he lost everything, even his family had no future. I have always found that to be harsh and I couldn't understand it, but then we find another example of the test of obedience in Nephi. He is told to chop the head of Laban. Nephi was reluctant as anyone would be, be he no doubt prayed for clarification and the angel of the Lord reminded him that better that one man die then a generation dwindle in unbelief (paraphrase). So I am a part of the potential generation and we all are.

So my takeaway is that obedience to God is a privilege and a covenant. It's opposing opposite disobedience is not a random thing, a lot of thought and sometimes a struggle goes into it.
I will go forward and do my best not to take it lightly.

Michaela Stephens said...

Hi Anonymous, thanks for stopping by.

I'm sorry that it is difficult for you to read my posts. I'm not sure how I can help because from my browser, all the text IS black except for links, which are blue and they are visible to me. It is the same in Firefox, Safari, and Camino browsers.

Anyone else having troubles?

Michaela Stephens said...

Ramona, a very long post could be written about obedience and disobedience and comparing the stories of King Saul and Nephi. It's a tricky issue because some people will question eternally how one could ever know God commanded someone to kill when God also commanded "thou shalt not kill."

Loved your comment "obedience to God is a privilege and a covenant."

It kind of reminds me of President Benson's words in this quotation:

“When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power.”

Barbie said...

Michaela, I am serving as a RS teacher, and just came across your blog, via this post. I really appreciate your commentary. It is well-written, insightful and very helpful to me as I plan my lesson. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I look forward to coming back to your blog again. PS...your picture looks familiar. I'm betting we crossed paths at BYU as I was there from '97-'03, minus my time serving a mission. Hope this finds you well!

Michaela Stephens said...

Hi Barbie,
Glad I could help in some way.


You're right; we may have met at BYU. I was there from '97 to '01. If you were at Helaman Halls in '97 or Deseret Towers in '98, we probably would have run into each other.

Steve Finnell said...

FAITH WITHOUT OBEDIENCE?

Can faith without obedience result in a positive result? Is it possible to be saved by faith alone. Jesus said he who believes and is baptized will be saved.(Mark 16:16)

Faith without obedience?

Could Simon Peter have filled his nets with fish by faith alone or was obedience required?(Luke 5:1-9) .......5 But Simon answered and said to Him, "Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.".....9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken;)NKJV.

Simon caught fish by faith plus obedience. Simon's obedience was not a good work. It was not keeping the Law of Moses.

A blind man healed by Jesus. Was he healed by faith only?(John 9:1-11.....11 He answered and said, "A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, 'Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.' So I went and washed, and I received sight.")NKJV

The blind man receive sight because of faith plus obedience. The blind man did not do a good work nor was he keeping the Law of Moses.

Was the temple tax paid by faith alone? (Matthew 17:24-27......27 Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.") NKJV.

Money for the tax was acquired by faith plus obedience. Peter was not doing a good work nor was he obeying the Law of Moses.

Were the lepers healed by faith only? (Luke 17:11-19...13 And they lifted up their voices and said , "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us !" 14 So when He saw them, He said to them, "Go, show yourselves to the priest." And so it was that they went, they were cleansed......)NKJV.

The lepers were healed by faith plus obedience. The lepers were not performing good works nor were they keeping the Law of Moses.

Obeying Jesus by being baptized in water, in order to have sins forgiven, is not a good work nor is it obeying the Law of Moses.


JESUS NEVER TAUGHT THAT MEN WOULD BE SAVED WITHOUT WATER BAPTISM UNDER THE NEW COVENANT. SAVED BY FAITH ALONE IS A MAN-MADE DOCTRINE!


YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com

Michaela Stephens said...

Steve,
Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It would have been nice if your comment had added something in line with the post instead of being slightly off-topic.
Please consider this a warning that further off-topic comments from you will be deleted.

Rusty T said...

Michaela,
Very well thought out. I very much enjoyed this posting. Just tonight my husband and I had some friends over for dinner and this is what we talked about - obedience.

I'd like to add one scripture to your first one...If you start with King Benjamin's speech in Mosiah 2:24 "And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you;for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you;". So what is it we immediately receive when we are obedient? We know it's not usually a temporal blessing (not immediately). That's when D&C 93:28 fits into the picture...He blesses us with "truth and light" immediately. And each time we are obedient, we gain more light and as we fill with light, we hear His voice more clearly and we become more like Him. The reverse is also true, we lose light when we are disobedient, as it says in verse 39...the wicked one takes it away through disobedience.

Line upon line, precept upon precepts. Nice job!