For That Matter, What Is Obedience?
I used to think I had an answer to this question, but now I’m not so sure. When President Nelson issued a challenge to the women to fast for a mere 10 days from social media, I frankly balked. No need to rehash my thought process here. You’ve probably seen fairly comprehensive lists from your friends across varying platforms already; mine are no different.
That same night as I dithered on making a decision about how or even whether I would engage in the challenge, I heard a whisper. “The longer you delay doing this, the more you delay receiving blessings.”
Strangely enough, that was all the encouragement I needed.
Where Are My Blessings?
If this were a faith-promoting story, I would regale you with stories of the heavens opening and blessings raining upon me. But this isn’t that story. In fact, it’s not a story at all. It’s just me doing what I do best: trying to figure stuff out.
When that whispered answer came to me, it frankly did not occur to me to ask what blessings I might receive. Naive of me, perhaps, but the call to rise up and accept a challenge was enough for me. I think it’s a blessing (HA!) in disguise that I didn’t wonder “what’s in it for me?” If I had wondered what I was going to get, I would likely be disappointed if those things didn’t materialize.
There’s more that I don’t know than what I do know, but I’m fairly certain that I don’t get to dictate to God what blessings I receive. To do so is to treat Him as some sort of Santa Claus in the sky, which He definitely is not. No, God sets the conditions, and to expect something – anything! – from Him is to perhaps set oneself up for disappointment.
Rereading President Nelson’s original invitation, he set no parameters about what blessings awaited those who participated in the fast. He just said to pay attention to how our perspectives shift, and take note of what changes we wanted to make in our lives that would draw us closer to the Spirit. The point of his talk was to remind us of our importance in the gathering of Israel. Are there blessings in that? You betcha. Do I know what they are? Nope!
Promised Blessings: Not Always What You Think
There were, however, some pretty awesome promises about reading the Book of Mormon. “I invite you to read the Book of Mormon between now and the end of the year. As impossible as that may seem with all you are trying to manage in your life, if you will accept this invitation with full purpose of heart, the Lord will help you find a way to achieve it. And, as you prayerfully study, I promise that the heavens will open for you. The Lord will bless you with increased inspiration and revelation.
“You … will be drawn closer to the Savior through this process. And changes, even miracles, will begin to happen.”
No specific descriptions of blessings were set forth, other than the opportunity to draw closer to the Savior, and to see miracles. He didn’t even say that miracles in our own lives would take place! Does that matter? No, I don’t think so. If a miracle is to see the hand of divinity in action, I’ll take that. I don’t even care if it’s in my own life or someone else’s. If someone else draws closer to the Savior because they see miracles, that’s a win I’ll take any day.
All too often we set ourselves up for disappointments when we set expectations about what we think we’ve earned or deserve. That’s just not how God works. He is not a vending machine of miracles. We don’t get to put our coins in, make a selection, and receive a bag of chips or candy in a tray. God’s love is not for sale, and to think of blessings in terms of some sort of transaction between us and God is, well, wrong. (I realize I sound like a broken record at this point.)
Having said all that though, God is a god of miracles. He does keep his promises, because those are the laws He lives by. It’s just that we don’t get to set the terms of those promises. And sometimes we don’t even know the terms of those promises.
It’s far too easy to fall into the “And therefore…” trap. “And therefore” is what we tell ourselves when we receive a blessing, or read the scriptures, or get a prompting from the Holy Ghost and erroneously apply it to ourselves. I’m not saying don’t look for the application; I am saying be careful in interpreting what the application or consequence or blessing is.
The most common “and therefore” I see is around this time of year when there are talks about tithing and the blessings we (are “supposed” to) receive by obeying that law. Dutifully, someone will refer to the scripture in Malachi about the windows of heaven opening and pouring blessings out on people who bring their offerings to the storehouse.
In the worst part about this seemingly scripted talk, we’ll hear about someone’s Aunt Cathy’s husband’s cousin’s mom’s sister who paid tithing when it seemed there was no money coming in and rent was due, and bills were overdue, and Cousin Johnny needed a life saving operation. But lo and behold! a kindly member of their ward dropped off a sack of flour with a hundred dollars in it, and everything turned out just great! All because they paid their tithing in the face of monetary bleakness.
I’m not saying those stories aren’t real (although that one obviously is not), but we shouldn’t base our testimonies of tithing in them. If we pay tithing thinking the recompense will be monetary, we may be sorely disappointed the rest of our lives.
If we make our faith conditional on terms we have no control over, our faith is not based in Jesus Christ at all, and so can be easily shaken.
Accepting the terms the Lord sets for blessings is the only place our expectations should be. And sometimes that means not always knowing what blessings the Lord has in store for us. I said earlier that the Spirit whispered to me I would be blessed when I decided to participate in President Nelson’s social media challenge. What I did not say was that I had an idea what those blessings were. I still don’t. And? I’m totally okay with that.
What is a blessing from God? I don’t always know, honestly. I’m not even sure I fully understand D&C 130:21 the way I thought I did, because I don’t know all of God’s laws upon which blessings are predicated.
Here’s what I do know: I know God loves me. His love is not conditional, even if the terms of blessings are. And I know that He will bless me in the best way I need at the time I need it, though those blessings and timing may not always match what I think they should. I’m okay with that. No, it’s not blind obedience; it is trust in things I don’t always understand…yet.
Yet. There’s a matter-y word. I’ve been promised lots of blessings that haven’t come to pass…yet.
So no, I still don’t know what-all blessings are in store for me…yet. But I believe they will come.
Oh yes, they will. And when they do, I will stand in the light of that window to heaven pouring light upon me, and thank the God of miracles.
Meanwhile, I look forward to the fulfillment of President Nelson’s blessing to the women of the church: “I promise that the heavens will open for you. The Lord will bless you with increased inspiration and revelation.” What looks like open heavens and more inspiration for me will look and feel differently for you.
That is the God I worship – the one who customizes blessings for each of us based on our individual needs.
What is obedience? A hint: I have issues with this word, or at least how it’s too frequently used, especially “exact” or “perfect” obedience. Just typing those set my teeth on edge.
Also, makarios, the Greek word used in the New Testament beatitudes for “blessed.” To call ourselves blessed is more than we can express in the English language, but Greek handles it perfectly.