Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Reason We Obey

Today I read 2 Corinthians 9 which to me was all about having the right attitude. When you were a kid, did you ever have to apologize for something you did wrong and afterwards your parents told you to do it again but this time say it like you mean it? I sure did. That is because our reason for doing things is usually just as important as the act itself. Think about all those TV shows about courtrooms and juries and judges and things. Aren't they always trying to prove the reason why the crime was committed just as much as they are who committed it? That's because there is a HUGE difference between someone who commits a crime on a spur of the moment and someone who sits down and meticulously plans it out.

So it is with all things. Our reasons for why we do things matter. I have generally found that there are a few stages to why we obey God's commandments or obey anyone's rules, laws, etc. The first stage is, we are afraid of punishment. This is universal and it starts as we are babies and children first starting to realize that we want certain things and they are not always in line with what our parents want for us. Think about all those times you have heard a parent, perhaps even your own, say to a child not to do something, or else. Perhaps if you are a parent you have even uttered those same words before to your child. I know I have already and my daughter is only 1 years old! This is because at that age, when a child has it set in their mind to do something, sometimes a fear of punishment is all that will stop them. That is the same way with keeping the commandments of God.

When we are first starting out we keep the commandments because we do not want to go to hell. It's as simple as that. We are afraid that if we screw up too badly, that God will punish us and send us into a lake of fire and brimstone, or something else similarly bad. We are afraid of the consequences, as we should be. The true consequence for not living the Gospel is an eternity without Heavenly Father or our family. That is what real hell is. But it is not because God is punishing us, more because we could not stand to be in His presence as Alma the Younger taught us. But it is a punishment nonetheless.

The second stage of following some set of rules is a desire for reward. How many times have you heard a parent tell a child that if they finish their vegetables they can have dessert? Too many to count probably. That's because bribery or a promise of a reward is a fantastic motivator for doing what is right. It's an even better motivator than fear of punishment, hence why it is the second stage. Some people follow the commandments of God for this reason. They want the promised blessings of following the commandments of God. For example if we pay tithing, we are promised that the windows of Heaven will open and pour out blessings so great that we cannot receive them. Some people pay tithing because of these promised blessings.

Now, before I move on to the final stage, I should point out that there is another stage that not all will agree with. That is the desire to do what is right, for the sake of doing what is right. Let me give you an example. I served a mission, because it was a commandment of God. No other reason, pure and simple. Growing up I had heard the talk by President Ezra Taft Benson who said that ever able bodied young man should serve a mission. A call to arms I believe. It may have been President Kimball, I'm not entirely sure, but multiple prophets have said it, however President Benson was the prophet during my childhood that I can remember, President Kimball passed away when I was 5. So I knew that serving a mission was expected of me, and what's more, it was a commandment from the Lord. So when I turned 19, there was no question in my mind that I was to serve a mission. It was part of the plan.

Now, I will make no secret that when I turned 19 I did not look forward to it, I did not want to do it, and if it had not been a commandment of the Lord, I would not have gone. I make no apology for it, that is how I felt. I did not want to give up my life for His sake. Luckily for me, my will to serve God and do what was right was strong enough to push through all of my doubts and misgivings and I am happy to say that by about the second week in the mission field I was past all of that and had an absolutely wonderful mission.

But I bring this up because I don't think this really is part of the other three reasons for obeying commandments and rules. I think it might even be a fourth reason but I have no idea where it would fall on the spectrum. But there are those who do what is right because it is what is right. It has nothing to do with fear of punishment or desire for reward or the last reason, they do it because they know what is expected of them and so they do it. In their mind there is no other option. Nephi was that way. I try to be that way also.

Now, the final reason for obeying God's commandments or anyone's rules, and it is at the top of the list no matter how many other steps below it there are, it is always the greatest reason for obedience. It is love. We obey God's commandments because we love Him. We obey the rules of our household because we love our parents. I know that I have seen my daughter, even at 1 years old, obey what I have asked of her because she loves me. There are times she does the things she has seen me do simply because she wants to be like me. She loves me and wants to do the things I have done and ask of her. So it is with God. When we are truly converted we will not pay our tithing because we want a blessing, but rather because we love God and He asked us to. Perhaps obeying the commandments because they are a commandment is a sub-set of this one. We obey because God has asked it of us and that's all we need to know. I'm not sure. But the reason we obey is just as important as the obedience itself.

God wants us to obey his word with a cheerful heart. This is because if we are to be exalted, we need to find joy in living the Gospel. Elder David A. Bednar, when he was here last September, told asked our Stake if we found joy in living the Gospel. Did we find living he commandments a delight, or a burden? Depending on our answer really tells us how converted we are. And I agree. If we find living the commandments a burden, then we are not converted to the Lord. We should still live them because they are right and the formula for a very happy life, but we should pray to God to give us the desire to live them more completely and fully. You will not be sorry you did. Until tomorrow.

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