All that Thou Doest
Following their dismissal from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve faced many challenges that they had not faced previously. I sometimes imagine what it was like for them to anticipate their first harvest, or even more importantly, to experience childbirth for the first time. Surely these events, and many, many more, caused them deep reflection, and perhaps moments of intense fear.
Gratefully, they had been taught and understood that prayer would be an essential element of their survival in the fallen earth. And they did pray. But, different than their time in the Garden of Eden, they no longer experienced the immediate presence of the Lord. Outside of his presence, they often had to move forward doing what seemed to be the right things to do, without direct assurance every step of the way.
Some of the prayers they offered were special prayers. These special prayers were associated with observances ordained by God. They involved taking the firstlings of their flocks to an appointed place, and there ending the life of these valuable animals by the shedding of the animals’ blood.
I don’t know how quickly their flocks increased in those early days of their mortal lives, but I’m confident that each and every animal they cared for was a significant part of their essential resources required for ongoing survival. What faith they must have had to make such offerings to the Lord.
After many days of living a life of labor, prayer, and sacrifice, an angel appeared, and asked:
“Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord?”
“I know not, save the Lord commanded me.”
The angel then instructed Adam, saying:
“This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.”
As Adam and Eve heard and subsequently pondered this message, they gained great understanding, appreciation, and a powerful witness of the reality of the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Along with the resultant sanctification, their witness of Jesus Christ sustained them as they faced the most difficult experiences life has to offer.
While there are many things to be learned from this important scriptural account, today I want to focus on a few of the words spoken by the angel:
“Thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.”
I don’t know how many things Adam and Eve had to do each day just to survive. How many hours on an average day did Adam labor by the ‘sweat of his brow’? How many, long, tedious days were there where Eve prepared for and then cared for the children that would come into her home? Imagine the many tasks they had to complete each day, over and over and over again. Remember what the angel told them, that they needed to do “all that (they did) in the name of the Son.”
I started teaching at Ensign College about a year ago. Many times over the last year I have heard students lament that they didn’t know how they could find time to do “church things” as well as the many other things they had to do as students, employees, spouses, and for some, as parents.
I hope no one will misunderstand what I’m about to suggest. I’m not suggesting that there doesn’t need to be time specifically set aside for public and private devotional experiences. There clearly needs to be such. However, I think one reason we struggle at times is because we make a division where there is not meant to be one.
Adam and Eve were invited to do ‘all that they did’ in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ, as part of their consecrated walk along the covenant path. To a disciple of Jesus Christ, educational work is covenant work. To a follower of the Savior, all honest labor is an essential part of the laboratory of learning that we were sent into this life to experience. And most importantly, there is no greater work that men and women can perform in this life than the work of creating, nurturing, providing for and protecting their families.
True repentance involves not just changing what we do, or don’t do. It additionally involves being clear in our minds and hearts about why we are doing what we are doing, in both our direct devotional moments, and in all moments and efforts of our lives.
Among the many elements of Lehi’s dream recorded in 1 Nephi 8, are two groups of people, who engage in initially similar outward behaviors but who have very different outcomes.
The latter group is described as those who, in their efforts to obtain the fruit of the tree of life, “came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and . . . did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.” The fruit was “most sweet, above all that (they) ever before tasted.”
In contrast, another group of people in the dream “did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.” But, “after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree . . . did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed” and subsequently “fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.”
Why did these two groups have different experiences at the tree?
The group that stayed at the tree was completely focused on the tree and its fruit, both of which are a powerful symbol of the love of God, and the effects of the Atonement of Jesus Christ in our lives. They experienced joy as they fell down, and feasted.
The group that stayed only temporarily at the tree were those whose focus was on the ‘great and spacious building.’
That building, as you likely recall, was filled with people who appeared high in the air, and whose full purpose and satisfaction was to mock those who they perceived to be lower than they were.
I assume that those whose focus turned from the tree to the building were much more concerned about what the world thought of them than they were concerned about receiving and feasting upon the love of God.
Their misguided focus prevented them from having the experience that the tree and its fruit were prepared to provide. Even though the fruit was immediately available to them, it was not enjoyed, nor was its power realized in their distracted minds and hearts.
President Nelson once memorably said:
“My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”
When we do ‘all that we do’ in the name of the Lord, we keep our focus on the tree and its fruit. Our progress along the strait and narrow path is not a contest with others, nor is it something we do for personal elevation. It’s what we do because we desire to return, in our own limited capacities, the love our Heavenly Father showed for us, as He established a plan, and sent his Beloved Son to the earth to help us more fully live in and be filled with God’s love. When we do this, the joy we feel is far beyond what can come from gaining any temporal status or possession. And it last so much longer. The resultant blessings are as long-lasting as the foundation upon which they are built.
There are some specific outward observances, both public and private, that are essential to keeping our focus on the Savior and his atoning sacrifice. Consistently engaging in these observances will also increase our ability to direct our attention away from worldly distractions and detractors.
Many years ago, I began to implement in my life something that I feel has been of significant help. I call it the ‘roll and kneel’ method of morning prayer. When I wake up, I roll out of bed and pray. For me, making the very first moments of my day moments of prayer has been a blessing. I know others may suggest that a better moment to pray is when we are cleaned up and ready to go for the day, and I take no issue with that approach. For me, praying first thing, and then following up with another prayer when I’m cleaned up and ready to study the scriptures, is very helpful.
I have also found that while it’s advisable to take time in the evening to pray before I am so tired I can’t think as clearly, there is also a blessing in spending my last few not-in-bed moments in prayer each day. I find these two ‘bookends’ to my day help me to do better, and have a more prayerful mindset, in all the time in-between.
Daily scripture study has similarly been, for me, an essential part of my early mornings. In those times where I for one reason or another postpone my scripture time until later in the day, I feel it. Many others find that the ending moments of the day, or another consistently available time in the day works better for them. Whatever the time of day we find works best, each of us should establish a pattern, one that if we ever get out of the pattern, we quickly feel it.
President M. Russel Ballard once suggested the following effective approach. He said:
“Half an hour each morning privately studying, pondering, and communicating with your Heavenly Father can make an amazing difference in your lives. It will give increased success in your daily activities. It will bring increased alertness to your minds. It will give you comfort and rock-steady assurance when the storms of life descend upon you.”
While such a time commitment at the beginning of the day may seem challenging for someone with school, employment, marriage, and perhaps even parenthood responsibilities, I have found that for me, personally, failing to do so leaves me more likely to find myself focused on the great and spacious building, and less likely to consistently keep my focus on the Savior. While I may make outward progress on those days, the joy I feel in those moments is limited.
I have also noticed that if my focus is on the tree when especially thick mists of darkness roll in, I am much more able to continue on the path in faith, and without fear. Keeping our focus on the Savior will also make it much less likely that we will see academic, economic, or any other kind of setback as anything other than a hill (or perhaps a hike) along the covenant path. We will understand that this challenging part of our path will help us to be stronger than we were before.
I additionally believe that living with such a mindset helps us to avoid many thought patterns that bring anxiety to our lives. When our goal is to do God’s will, we will be less likely to live in fear that our small choices with no moral component will have unalterable negative impacts on our lives. As we strive to do His will, we won’t live in fear of going too far down any ‘wrong roads.’ We won’t, if focused on the Savior, see unfavorable circumstances or immediate outcomes as a sign of God’s disfavor, when they are not meant to be such. We will see them as what they are, opportunities for growth.
While I know the Lord loves us, and wants us to be happy, I believe that generally, our personal spiritual growth is a higher priority to Him than our immediate comfort. Some of the greatest strides we make occur in the most difficult of circumstances.
Making time each Sabbath day to partake of the sacrament shows our Heavenly Father that we love Him, and are willing to always remember His Son. Doing so with real intent powerfully helps us to keep our eyes focused on doing the right things for the right reasons. The commitment we make each time we partake of the sacrament is significant, and comes with significant blessings. President Ezra Taft Benson once taught the following about these blessings. He said:
“Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life.”
I’m very much looking forward to continuing my study of the Doctrine and Covenants this year with the help of the “Come Follow Me” resources. I have noticed in my past study of these precious revelations that one of the great challenges we face is to “set aside the things of this world, and to seek the things of a better.” I don’t believe that this means that we should always isolate ourselves from essential elements of life such as school, work, or even wholesome entertainment. I do believe it means to go about these efforts with a ‘covenant path mindset.’ It’s to remember that all we do can and should become part of our consecrated efforts to come unto and walk with the Savior.
So many of the struggles the early saints of this dispensation faced were opportunities to learn how to put God’s will first in their lives. Our struggles in prioritizing our time and efforts present a similar opportunity, to each of us, each day of our lives. Time is a precious commodity; we never seem to have enough of it. Making intentional, focused, early sacrifices of our time to the Lord, will make it much more likely that all of the time we have will lead to those eternal blessings we seek.
I’m not sure, as I mentioned before, what kind of temporal loss the sacrifice Adam and Eve’s sheep constituted. But I know what they gained as they strived to do all that they did in the name of the Savior. They gained the saving help of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, to overcome all earthly setbacks, and to return back into the presence of their Heavenly Parents, having become so much more like them.
I’m eternally grateful for our Savior, Jesus Christ. He truly is the bread of life. As we keep our eyes fixed on Him, He will see us through all earthly challenges, to arrive back home to be in the presence of our eternal families, with a much greater appreciation of their eternal significance. This I know to be true, and testify of it in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.