The professed goal of every Latter-day Saint is to become a god someday. We want to be like our heavenly parents, complete, whole, and perfect in every way. This process of perfection started before we came to mortality, and it will continue long after we leave mortality. What concerns us about the process in the here and now is that we not get distracted and abandon the work we have done up till now for rewards that will not satisfy and will not last. We are seeking a divine union between between the spark of divinity that is in each of us with the source of all divinity, our God, who is our Father in Heaven.
Becoming divine (holy) is a slow and arduous process. It does not happen quickly by any standard, nor is it easy by any standard. Have you ever noticed that when you try to give an explanation of some principle of the gospel that it is difficult to single out everything about that one principle and cover the subject completely? If you have ever experienced this problem, the reason is because nothing in the gospel, the plan for our salvation, the laws of God (they are all the same thing), stand alone. Every part is connected to other parts. Every part depends on other parts to function properly. It is frustratingly both amazingly simple and infinitely complex at the same time.
Every time you discuss a principle in Sunday School class, the teacher is trying to focus on one point, but Sister Smith brings up another point that affects how well the teacher’s point works. Brother Jones thinks that these other parts of the gospel need to be considered first, and Brother Butler wants to focus on something completely different. Sometimes just trying to make what seems like a simple point to a class becomes like herding cats. This is the challenge every teacher of the gospel encounters – all the learners are at different places spiritually, and will see things and understand things at a different pace, and in their own way. We are all headed in the same general direction – downstream – but it is like we are all in different currents and in different places along the same wide river. Our view is never quite the same as our neighbor’s.
I offer you five things to consider as you make your personal journey toward divinity. We are each at a different point or stage with each of these lessons we all need to learn. But all of us need to learn each of them before we can spiritually get to where we profess we want to be. Like everything in the gospel, there are more than just these five, but lucky for you five is all I can think of at the moment. You are welcome to add additional things we all need to learn in the comments section below. That way we can all be edified.
Learn to listen
No one is born knowing how to be a god. None of us have the faintest clue. If we are going to become like God we need a teacher and mentor to guide us down that path. That teacher is the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost. His role in the Godhead is to teach us right from wrong, to show us how to behave and how to think. He helps lead us from being carnally minded (focused on physical pleasures and desires) to being spiritually minded (focused on what will make us happy for eternity). To do this he will have to change us from shallow, pleasure-seeking, selfish people into people who live to bless the lives of others, and who think and act like God himself. In mortality we will do it imperfectly, but we will learn to approximate His (God’s) performance. It is like a little child learning to talk, we go through a lot of babbling and burbling before we come up with anything intelligent to say. It is a game of practice, practice, practice. Practice means making mistakes then correcting them the next time around.
There is no skill in the gospel sense that is more important to learn than that of following the promptings of the Holy Ghost. Being able to follow the Spirit in all things trumps any other skill or knowledge base we might have acquired. Our Father provided us with a Savior to work out the atonement for us, and gave us a personal tutor and mentor to teach us all truth and lead us back to Him. Our mentor just also happens to be a God in his own right, so he knows the path and can show us the way.
A willingness to be happy
One of our biggest obstacles in mortality is our perception that the commandments of God are punitive and restricting. In other words, they exist to make our lives miserable. This is one of the great lies Satan tells us to prevent our own happiness. Commandments are, in fact, the laws of happiness. Living a commandment generates happiness. That is why we have been given the commandments from our Father in Heaven; he wants us to be happy. Not living the commandments of God and expecting to find happiness, now that is the true definition of insanity. Here is a quote from the 2015 lesson manual by President Ezra Taft Benson:
“Let me talk about obedience. You’re learning now to keep all the commandments of the Lord. As you do so, you will have His Spirit to be with you. You’ll feel good about yourselves. You can’t do wrong and feel right. It’s impossible!”
The truth is, commandments exist for us to be happy. We cannot find happiness outside of the commandments. Satan will go to great lengths to try to get us to bend them, break them, ignore them – in short to do anything but keep and live them. Since happiness comes only by living the commandments of God, Satan’s goal is to get us to do anything but that.
Another source of our happiness lays in the scriptures. Again, here is President Benson:
“You must help the Saints see that studying and searching the scriptures is not a burden laid upon them by the Lord, but a marvelous blessing and opportunity.”
President Benson, like all the prophets, delivers the same eternal message to read and study the scriptures. The scriptures are the mind and will of the Lord recorded for our benefit and blessing by the prophets. If we want to be happy, if we want to become like God, we need to become intimately familiar with his words. Unlike us, what he says and what he does is the same thing. If we want to know the personality of God, we need to begin by studying what he says. President Benson put it this way:
“The more familiar you are with the scriptures, the closer you become to the mind and will of the Lord and the closer you become as husband and wife and children. You will find that by reading the scriptures the truths of eternity will rest on your minds.”
Time to learn
Becoming one with He who is divine takes time. We are all slow learners when it comes to spiritual things. It takes a lot of practice to learn to follow the Spirit. It takes a lot of time to learn the lessons the Spirit needs to teach us. Many of the lessons we need to learn cannot be learned quickly. Patience is one such virtue. You can’t say, “I want patience, and I want it now!” There are some things the Lord needs to teach us that require that we obtain a perspective that takes years to develop.
This is actually one of the most difficult parts about the gospel. The Lord does not just tell us upfront that we need to do this, then this, then this, and voila you’re perfect! Perfection, becoming spiritually whole and complete, takes time to develop. We need patience to develop the character traits needed to become like God. A child cannot see things like a parent can precisely because the child has not had the life experience needed to develop the perspective on life a parent has. Only time can grow such a perspective. And the perspective a parent has is not as clear and inclusive as that held by a righteous octogenarian. Having lived more than four times the lifespan of a twenty-year old develops a way of looking at life that you cannot achieve quickly. That is just one example.
Ability to wait
This one goes hand-in-hand with giving ourselves time to grow. We need to learn to wait on the Lord. In lesson twelve of the 2015 Relief Society – Priesthood manual, the lesson starts with a story about President Benson and Elder Robert D. Hales who were reorganizing a Stake. Here is how Elder Hales tells the story.
“After praying, interviewing, studying, and praying again, Elder Benson asked if I knew who the new president would be. I said I had not received that inspiration yet. He looked at me for a long time and replied he hadn’t either. However, we were inspired to ask three worthy priesthood holders to speak in the Saturday evening session of conference. Moments after the third speaker began, the Spirit prompted me that he should be the new stake president. I looked over at President Benson and saw tears streaming down his face. Revelation had been given to both of us—but only by continuing to seek our Heavenly Father’s will as we moved forward in faith.”
This is a classic example of how the Lord works. He rarely tells us upfront all the details we need to know about something. He gives us some basic knowledge then lets us work with that knowledge for a bit. When we have exhausted all of our options with what we have been given he gives a little more. That is what he did with these brethren. They were given an assignment to find a new Stake President. They went to the Stake, arranged for interviews, they prayed for guidance, studied it out, prayed again, and still no direction on who they should choose. They exercised their faith that the Lord would reveal the information in his own due time by following the Spirit’s counsel to ask three worthy brothers to speak in the Saturday evening meeting. It was at the end of the meeting, during the last of the three’s talks that the Spirit gave them the witness they had come for.
Notice that they were up against a wall. They had exhausted all their options. Time had run out. Tomorrow morning they were scheduled to announce a new Stake Presidency, but the Spirit had still not told them who it was. Most of us would have been in a state of absolute panic about how stupid we were going to look in the morning because we still had no clue. But not these men. Their faith and experience told them that no matter how it looked on the outside, the Lord would take care of it. They waited patiently for the Lord to give them the information when they needed it. They did not doubt He would do it. In the meantime they did everything in their power to follow the Spirit, their teacher in spiritual matters.
This is how the Lord works. He requires that we give our all first. We must give all our effort, all our heart, all our patience, all our belief – our all. He then steps in and takes us the rest of the way. It is His work, and for His glory. He never lets his servants flounder needlessly. He may make us sweat, but he never forgets who’s errand we are on. After all, it was He who sent us to do the work. He wants it done, so we need to trust that he will give us whatever is needed for the work to be accomplished in His own due time and way.
He does this with the Church too. When Joseph Smith restored the gospel, it was not given to him whole. It was given to him piecemeal. The essentials were given first, the priesthood and the ordinances. After that it was one doctrine followed by another doctrine as they were needed or as the prophet enquired about them. God always takes us only as fast as we are able to run without falling down. Generations later the Church is still receiving revelations and directions that are new, and in addition to what Joseph Smith received. The Church, as an organization is still waiting on the Lord for guidance, which he gives us when we are ready for it.
Sometimes we are ready for something, but the timing is not right. In the Book of Mormon you will find references in the Book of Alma that state that to them the law of Moses was dead because they lived as though Christ had already come. They still practiced the Law, but they understood the Law for what it was, a tutorial for the higher law Christ would bring. They were already living the higher law, even though they had to continue practicing the law of Moses until Christ came.
Ability to let it go
Many new parents inwardly suspect that their obstinate toddler is misbehaving deliberately. This is a real test of our belief that children are innocent until the age of accountability. How can that little monster who says, “No!” to everything we say, be innocent? That is the perspective of many new parents. Most grandparents just laugh at the antics of the toddler, because they have learned with the years to let go of the personal threats such behaviors generate in a new parent.
When we sit in class and the teacher makes a point about the gospel, we need to recognize and understand that a point has been made. The point is not the whole gospel. It is not the end-all and be-all answer to the gospel, but only a point. If the point is true as it was presented, then we need to learn to accept it for what it is, a small piece of truth in a very large body of truth. There is no need to argue that “everything” else was not included with that point. We don’t need to feel threatened because we have had a different experience, that we understand it a little differently. Remember my analogy of the river? We are all heading in the same general direction, but all of us have a slightly different experience going down that progression river. The experience I have does not negate the experience you have.
Learning to let things go, let people grow, let things be, is hard to do. It is harder for some than for others, but we all need to learn to allow others to progress towards that divine union we all seek at their own pace. There is a reason we are told that it is the responsibility of our priesthood leaders to correct doctrine taught in sacrament meeting. If he who is responsible to the Lord for what takes place in that meeting sees that the teachings are too far off the mark then he has to stand up and correct what was said. But if it was only slightly off the mark, and it isn’t going to mar anyone’s eternal progression to let the comment stand, the he can let it go. For those of us with obsessive compulsive disorder, that can be really hard to do.
The river is wide
Trying to link our tiny spark of divinity to God’s infinite glory is not easy. It takes time. It requires that we develop patience with ourselves, as well as with others. We have to learn to wait on the Lord, who knows all things, to do what we firmly believe should have been done last week to save us all the hassle of learning something the hard way. And finally, we need to learn to let things go. No two people are in the same spiritual place. We are all trying to connect to God because we all want to be happy. We all want to go home and be like our heavenly parents. But we have so many lessons to learn that we need to add to that list of lessons being tolerant of the journey of our neighbor. Hopefully, our neighbor will also be tolerant of us.
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