The Value of Struggle

I want to talk to the rising generation. We live in a constantly changing world; one that can be difficult to keep up with. With change comes struggle and adaptation. This can be painful for those already set in their ways, but those who embrace change know how much better life can be when you become familiar with and take advantage of what is available.

A basic definition of struggle is to strive to achieve or attain something in the face of difficulty or resistance. We all struggle with something.

Struggle helps inspire change

I recently heard a story about a young man who was living away from home and working in sales. After doing this for a while, he began to feel unfulfilled and wasn’t sure that this was the right career path he should take. One hot summer day it all came crashing down. There had to be some way to release all of these negative feelings. He got in his older model car, which happened to have a superb heater in it, cranked it up and started driving home. He immediately started sweating profusely and his suit was drenched in no time. The negative feelings started to leave. He got home, cut his suit up into pieces and flushed them down the toilet. The next day, he applied for a job at a local radio station and was immediately turned away. Day after day for about a month, he kept coming back and asking about a job there. Finally, they offered him an entry level position. Shortly thereafter, the host of one of the shows was fired and the young man was immediately promoted. Several years later, he is now successfully hosting his own show with literally millions of listeners each day.

Think for a minute about how the young man in the story must feel today. Do you think he takes for granted where he is, considering where he’s been? Of course not. Real appreciation comes out of the struggle. He earned his way to the top. Sure, he had help along the way, but his success was not just handed to him.

I don’t know the heart of the young man or if he realizes the plan God has for him. It is my personal belief that God has a plan for all of us; generally and individually. He truly cares about our happiness and has allowed us to experience mortal life in order to learn through our struggles.

Part of the Plan

In the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, the Prophet Lehi speaks about the necessity of learning by experience while speaking to his son Jacob:
“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.” (2 Nephi 2:11)

I believe an important part of God’s great plan of happiness for us all is dealing with personal weakness and imperfections. I can honestly say at this point in my life that I am grateful for these things. I wouldn’t be where I am today without learning from my mistakes.

The Lord spoke to the Prophet Moroni in the Book of Mormon about this:
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27)

Lehi’s son Nephi taught:
“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” (2 Nephi 28:30)

I still struggle and I’m still young, so I know there’s a lot left to learn. However, I find comfort in knowing that as I try to follow God’s plan for me and allow him to shape me through my experiences, I will grow. I will appreciate more. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know!

How has struggle and opposition helped you to draw closer to God?

Mormons and Their Rules – by Joseph Gardner

My sophomore year of college, I had the opportunity to compete on the school’s track team.  In addition to enjoying to challenges associated with competition, I also experienced a great camaraderie with my teammates, most of whom had distinctly different backgrounds and interests.  

I’ll never forget one particular experience with my team, warming up for the day’s practice.  It was a Monday after one of those beautiful, cool spring weekends and everyone was discussing their weekend…let’s say “exploits.”  Ironically enough, the conversation turned to the appropriateness of their “extracurricular activities” with the discussion finally escalating when someone said, “well, let’s just ask Gardner!  He’s Mormon, he knows all the rules!”

The funny thing is, that wasn’t the first nor has it been the last experience like this that I’ve had.  Whether it’s coworkers joking that I must have been the culprit that finished off the office coffee without starting another batch or questions from neighbors, I’ve found that people typically associate members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints with having lots of rules.

This has lead me to ask myself, “so what IS with all the rules?!”

Purpose of Commandments
First off, to use biblical jargon, we’ll refer to rules as commandments.  And whether we are looking at the Old Testament, New Testament, or the Book of Mormon, there are TONS of mentions of commandments.  Let’s just say, it would be a trending topic on twitter.

One of my favorite scriptures on commandments comes from the New Testament. Specifically John 14:15 and 21 where Jesus said, speaking to His disciples, “if ye love me, keep my commandments…he that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me…”

I read these verses to mean that keeping the commandments or following the rules, is an expression of my love and discipleship of Christ.

Using two examples from the Old Testament (Proverbs 4:4 and 19:16) provides an additional and different insight into the purpose of commandments.  They read, “…keep my commandments, and live,” and “ he that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul.”

The vibe I take here is that following the commandments also has a guiding purpose, and that keeping them results in a positive outcome for me.

Putting the Old and the New together, I get that God lovingly gives me these commandments for my benefit.  They provide guidance and instruction on how to live a happy and fulfilled life.  

This makes sense to me.  I mean, I have a hard time imagining a Father in Heaven chuckling to Himself saying, “now to make life even MORE difficult, I’ll give them commandments!  Mwah ha ha!”  In fact, in 1 John 5: 3 reads, “his commandments are not grievous,” with grievous meaning burdensome and oppressive (emphasis added).  

Seen in this light, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints go about life with all their “rules” because they see them as an expression of discipleship in Christ and believe they provide a guiding “hand rail” if you will, to life.

However, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m guilty of letting things become more about the rules and less about their purpose.

Can We Take It Too Far?
I’m a task-oriented person.  What I mean by this is, I tend to create a level of business in my life.  The day is only 24 hours and I’ve got stuff to take care of!!

Extending this to the discussion about commandments, I begin to see and behave in such a way that these guiding rules simply become “to-dos” on my every growing list of things to get done that day.   I approach them like a checklist and sometimes even expand their scope, furthering the  busyness of my life.

This hustle and bustle that I carry with me is the main window through which others get a glimpse of my faith. Probably not the best impression.

In fact, Christ spent a lot of His time on earth condemning this sort of behavior, (see Matthew 23 for example).  He taught and reminded the people that life isn’t about commandments for commandments sake.  They are meant to guide me to God (John 7:17).

Dieter Uchtdorf, whom members of the church support as a modern day apostle recently said, “salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God” (May 2015 General Conference).

When I heard him say I had an “oh-duh-light-bulb” moment.  I realized/remembered that I don’t go to church or practice my faith to take copious notes on how to make my life more busy and challenging.  I want to worship Christ because He has saved me. I need His grace.

Uchtdorf went on to emphasize that with Christ’s grace, commandments have yet another purpose, “living the gospel faithfully is not a burden.  It is a joyful rehearsal—a preparation for inheriting the grand glory of the eternities” (May 2015).

Clearly, my zealous busyness misses the mark, and doesn’t necessarily reflect well on my discipleship of Christ.  One particular commandment comes to mind here, the commandment to repent.  My favorite definition of repentance comes from Ezekiel where he says to turn from where I was facing back to God and live (see chapter 33).  

After that, commandments aren’t just rules.  They have a specific purpose: to help teach me about Him, to guide me to Him, to show me how to be more like Him.

Is it bad to pray for material wealth?

There’s one question that I think most believers ask themselves at some point — especially those of us who are responsible for the “breadwinning” in a family — and that question is “Is it bad to pray for material wealth?”

What do the scriptures say?
At first pass, the scriptures can seem somewhat contradictory. Jesus taught “a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven” and that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:16-25) On the other hand, Amulek taught that we should “Cry unto him over the crops of [our] fields, that [we] may prosper in them.” and “Cry over the flocks of [our] fields, that they may increase.” (Alma 34:24-25)

After lots of study and prayer on this topic, I’ve come to the belief that God doesn’t care so much about our actual wealth, but rather how we feel towards money. I don’t believe that money is good or bad in and of itself — it’s our attitude that matters. This is further supported by something Dallin H. Oaks said recently: “The possession of wealth or significant income is not a mark of heavenly favor, and their absence is not evidence of heavenly disfavor.”

My prayers for material wealth have been answered
A couple of years ago, I was working really hard to get my web development business off the ground. As anyone who has started a small business knows, there can be some REALLY long days and weeks — especially as employees are hired and payroll needs to be met. I remember one month in particular when I had been working really hard on sales but it just seemed like the deals weren’t coming in. Typically we’d get a lead or two each week, but for some reason it had been a couple of weeks with no real prospects and I was starting to get worried.

I remember kneeling down to pray one morning after scripture study and having the distinct impression come to my mind that I needed to “Pray for FIVE leads today.” At first this seemed crazy.. first, why such a specific feeling? Also, I couldn’t remember ever getting five leads in a single day. I doubted whether or not I had heard the prompting right, and I was hesitant to ask for a material blessing. But as I pondered asking the question, I felt peaceful and decided to go ahead with it. What’s the worst that could happen, right?

As the day progressed, I had a lead or two come in fairly early and then another one after lunch. I was pretty satisfied at that point, and said to myself (and to God) “Three leads is fantastic!! What a blessing. I don’t need any more.” Towards the end of the day, another lead came in and I thought “Wow, FOUR leads! This is amazing. Thank you, God” and was ready to go home content that I had seen a miracle. Literally seconds before I closed my laptop lid for the day, an email came in from an old friend of mine indicating that she needed some web work done. My eyes welled up as I realized that my plea for material wealth had not only been inspired, but had been answered in a completely miraculous way.

Does God care about our material well being? Absolutely.

My pursuit of material wealth has also gotten in the way of my spiritual growth
I’ve also had experience teach me that the pursuit of wealth is definitely NOT always a good thing. Again, in the process of getting my business off the ground, I had to work some pretty late nights. On one night in particular, I had just logged a 16 hour+ day and I was exhausted. It was dark outside when I left the office and I knew my wife and kids were already in bed at home. I had spent the ENTIRE day at work. As I got on to my motorcycle and headed for home, I wondered to myself “What am I doing? This is no way to live.” At that moment, the Spirit confirmed my feelings.. I was indeed pushing too hard, and the Lord was not pleased with my imbalance.

I have since had that experience called to memory by the Spirit on a number of occasions. I believe it’s God’s gentle way of remind me not to get too consumed by wealth. Perhaps the reason we are cautioned so strongly against riches is that they can and will corrupt.

At the end of the day, wealth is neither good nor bad. If you think about it, money is just a tool — something that comes automatically when value is created. I love the way my business is able to help people. A natural consequence of us getting really good at offering that help is that we’re paid money in exchange for the value add.

I believe that God doesn’t want us to have money necessarily, but that it’s part of a larger concept that he does very much want us to have — Righteous dominion. In the parable of the talents, the first steward is praised for having taken what the Lord gave him and turned it into something greater. To me, gaining righteous dominion means building reputation, experience, knowledge, relationships and yes — wealth. I believe that the most important part of obtaining material wealth without losing our souls is to carefully listen for God to tell us when we’re taking it too far.

What are your thoughts on praying for material wealth?

Religion vs. science

I want to speak to you from the heart for a minute about the age-old “religion vs. science” debate. It seems pretty bold to tackle such a big topic with a single blog post, but… well, here we go.

The great debate
As a believer, I feel like I’m constantly on trial when I interact with the more science-based crowd. I hear questions like “the Bible says the earth is only a few thousand years old, but science knows its millions of years old” or “There is no scientific record of a global flood, especially not in recent history” or “if Adam and Eve were the first man & woman, why do we have fossil records going back millions of years?” A lot of people seem to assume that as a believer I probably don’t ever ask myself these questions, but I do. The difference for me, however, is that I’ve also had some very real, powerful experiences with religion from which I have gained an immense amount of knowledge, so I’ve come to appreciate what spirituality can add to the search for truth.

To me, that’s what it’s really all about — the pursuit of truth. I love truth. I love what knowing truth does for us. The more we know, the more we can live according to that knowledge, which brings us happiness, peace and impact. Science and religion are both deeply concerned with truth, so I love them too.

True religion and true science will never be at odds
I believe strongly that, as Henry Eyring stated, “there can never be any genuine contradictions between true science and true religion.” Both efforts are centered around the pursuit of truth — religion is just a top down “here’s what God has revealed, let’s see how that explains what we’re seeing” approach versus science which is a bottom up “here are the facts as we know them, what conclusions can we draw from them?” approach. The problem, of course, is that we live in a world of bad religion and bad science.

The effects of bad religion are obvious. Countless wars have been waged in the name of God. Individuals, communities and nations have done (and continue to do) terrible things to each other under the belief that they are serving God. Lives have been lost because believers wouldn’t accept blood transfusions or take medicine because they believed that in so doing they would offend God. With religion, people act on faith, and bad things happen when our faith is misplaced.

The effects of bad science are a little less obvious, but still very real. Before columbus sailed, common knowledge held that the earth was flat. In early America, it was common practice to attach leaches to sick people to remove their poisonous blood. In today’s age, science is constantly discovering new drugs like Phen/Fen that are touted as miracle substances but turn out to have horrible side effects. When we act according to bad science, we’re in no better position than those who act according to bad religion.

Religion isn’t provable, but neither is science
Proponents of a “science only” approach often use the argument that science is repeatable and provable where faith isn’t. That seems logical at first glance, but in my experience, science is no more provable than religion. It’s not uncommon at all for a “conclusive” study to turn out to be flawed (in fact, 1 in 20 are, statistically speaking). It’s also not uncommon for a study to find its way into a peer review journal not based on merit but because of politics and “good ole boy’s club” dynamics. In science, just like in religion, you have to decide who and what you’re going to believe. Science is the new religion and that “scientists” are the new oracles, and there’s an entire generation of believers who are casting aside their traditional religions to embrace a new one.

My conclusion
I believe that God is only God because he’s the smartest, most powerful being in the universe, and that he acts in complete and perfect understanding of the physical world. I reject the idea that you have to choose whether to believe in faith or to believe in science — I have found both to be deeply valuable to me. I believe that as a society we’ll be better off with science, better off with religion, and BEST off when we use both of them together.