One of my favorite hymns is number 100, “Nearer My God to Thee.”
“Nearer my God to thee, Nearer to thee! E’en though it be a cross That raiseth me.” Even if it’s a cross. Every time I sing this hymn I ask myself, “Is this how I feel?” Is my desire to be near God that strong? Hanging from a cross, would I have the strength and the devotion to say, “Still all my song shall be Nearer, my God to thee.”
Next month we’ll celebrate Pioneer Day. I love Pioneer stories. The sacrifices of the pioneers inspire me. I always ask myself, “Would I willingly go through what they went through for the Gospel?” Would I tread through icy water hauling a handcart? Would I face the harsh elements, give up my home, my limbs, and even my life and still find the strength to sing the songs of Zion?
Maybe. But could I lose my husband? My children? That is when I begin to doubt myself. How strong is my desire to be “near God”?
In Alma 22, Aaron teaches Lamoni’s father. In verse 18, we read: “O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee …”
All his sins. Not just the really bad ones. Giving up our sins is harder sometimes than we like to admit to ourselves. We’re all sinners. All of us. We’re here—at church—choosing God at least today. We’re here to renew covenants, learn truth, and learn how to choose the right. But we will go home and we will sin at least once or twice. Probably not big sins, but we will sin. On accident. On purpose. Why? Because all of us has at least one sin—or weakness—that we love too much to give up. Or, that we don’t consider important enough to give up. It’s small. It’s insignificant. Why does it matter? Is your desire to know God strong enough to give up all your sins?
My topic today is The Law of the Harvest, and more specifically Neal A. Maxwell’s 1996 October Conference address “According to the Desire of [our] Hearts.”
“Desire denotes a real longing or craving. Hence righteous desires are much more than passive preferences or fleeting feelings. Of course our genes, circumstances, and environments matter very much, and they shape us significantly. Yet there remains an inner zone in which we are sovereign, unless we abdicate. In this zone lies the essence of our individuality and our personal accountability.
“Therefore, what we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity.”
What do you desire? How strong is that desire? And is it a “righteous” desire?
There are a lot of things I desire. Some of them relate to material things. Some of them relate to the kind of person I want to be—the kind of wife and mother I’d like to be, how I’d like to contribute to society, etc. And I have desires related to the Gospel. I can’t say that I desire to give up all my sins or to be nearer to God even if it means being raised on a cross. But I can say that I desire to desire those things.
Which is okay! In Alma 32:27, we’re told, “Even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.”
I love this scripture. It is hopeful and merciful. God is patient with our weaknesses—eager to root them out—but patient. If you can’t believe enough to put God above everything else, to sacrifice everything yet, then start with a desire to believe that much. And then let that desire work within you.
Okay, so … I desire to desire to follow God over everything else. What do I do now? I also desire to lose twenty pounds. How do I make the leap from desire to the finish line? It doesn’t just happen because I want it to. Yes, desire shapes our actions, but we still have to take those actions. And we must prioritize our desires, rooting out all those that hinder progress.
For example, back to my desire to lose weight. It’s not enough for me to just say it. No matter how badly I want it to happen, I have to make the proper changes to my diet and exercise to be successful. It’s really pretty simple on paper. I want this and in order to have this, I have to do this. But guess what? My desire for sleep and simple carbs is a little bit stronger than my desire for weight loss. And it is the strongest desire that will end up shaping who you are.
If your desire to believe and act on the word of God is stronger than all other desires, you will naturally do His will and as a consequence, your faith will grow. If your desire to follow God comes second to anything—anything—you’ll have slower growth, or no growth at all.
Elder Maxwell said, “It is up to us. God will facilitate, but He will not force.
“Righteous desires need to be relentless, therefore, because said President Brigham Young, ‘the men and women, who desire to obtain seats in the celestial kingdom, will find that they must battle every day.’ Therefore, true Christian soldiers are more than weekend warriors.”
There is so much competing for our attention—and not all of it is bad. It’s okay to desire to have fun. It’s okay to desire success. A better job. A bigger house, a new computer, etc. Desires not directly related to the Gospel are not inherently evil, so long as they do not distract you from your righteous goals. So long as these desires are not stronger than your desire for God.
But how do we prioritize our desires so that our desire to serve God comes first? I don’t really know. But I do have some ideas. I think that why we desire something is just as important as what we desire.
Back to the weight loss example. Right now my desire is mostly motivated by the fact that it’s summer—swimsuit season—and I still have some lingering body issues from my teen years. That’s really not a good reason—not a good “why.” A better why would be because I want to be healthier. Stronger.
If you desire to forsake your sins and come closer to God but are having a hard time doing so—or maybe you’re having a hard time desiring to desire that—ask yourself what the motivation behind the desire is. Is it fear? Do you desire to go to church, fulfill your callings and assignments, read scriptures, pay tithing, etc. because you’re afraid of the consequences if you don’t? Maybe you’re afraid to disappoint your Bishop. Or parent. Or spouse. Or the whole ward. Or maybe you’re afraid God will punish you. Maybe you want to choose the right just because you’re afraid not to.
This isn’t wrong, but it probably won’t get you as far as you want to go.
Is your motivation the promise of blessings? I’ve observed that God’s people—from Old Testament times to modern day—are very superstitious. I’ve often heard tithing called “Fire Insurance.” And I’ve heard many stories of people paying their tithing only to receive so much more in return. This certainly happens, but isn’t enough to obey God’s commandments just because we hope for a reward.
I’m trying to teach my daughter to pick up after herself. So far, I’ve tried two different approaches: clean your room or you’re going to be in trouble, and clean your room and I’ll give you a treat. The promise of a treat works a little better than the threat of punishment; however, she’s beginning to expect a treat for every little thing she does, and that’s not the lesson I want her to learn. Eventually—I hope—as I keep working with her, she’ll see the benefit of a clean room and I won’t have to threaten or bribe. I think God—who is a parent, too—sometimes uses punishments and blessings (bribes) to teach His children. But really, we just need to learn to obey—not out of fear, not just for the promise of gifts.
Because, I can testify to you that though as a loving parent, God is always bestowing blessings on His children, those blessings are not always temporal and they are not always immediate. I’ve paid a full tithing despite financial difficulty several times. I have a story of when immediately after a faithful payment of tithing, I received great temporal help. I also have a story of when immediately after a faithful payment of tithing my husband came down with appendicitis, went to the hospital, and then missed a full week of work with no pay—not to mention the thousands of dollars in hospital bills we then had to pay. If my desire to pay tithing was motivated only by the hope of temporal blessings, this would have shaken my faith a little bit.
So what should be the biggest motivator? Love. We should desire to serve God because we love Him. We should fulfill our callings because we love Him, and as an extension of that, love His sheep.
If I loved kale, spinach, and running, losing weight wouldn’t really be an issue. But I love pasta, chocolate, and reading—so it is. What do you love and how is that affecting your desires?
Again quoting Brigham Young, Elder Maxwell said in his talk: “Do you think that people will obey the truth because it is true, unless they love it? No, they will not.” Elder Maxwell goes on to say, “Thus knowing gospel truths and doctrines is profoundly important, but we must also come to love them. When we love them, they will move us and help our desires and outward works to become more holy.”
So now, how do we develop this love to fuel our desires, which in turn will determine our actions and who we will become?
In pondering this, I reflected on my relationship with my husband. The flirty butterflies in my stomach are almost all gone when I’m around him. We’ve been married for six years. What is it that strengthens my love for him beyond his sense of humor and adorable dimples? Two things: remembering all he does for me, and trying to do more for him.
He does a lot to help me, and to show his appreciation for me. My gratitude for him increases my love for him. And, as I seek ways to show him my love and appreciation, as I search for opportunities to make him happy, I find my heart softens toward him even more. It’s just a natural thing that whomever we willingly serve, we love.
Think of what Christ has given you. The Atonement comes to mind. His crucifixion. The Resurrection. The gospel. But there are subtle things too. We have all felt the gentle presence of the Holy Ghost at some point in our lives—or at least I hope so. Think of a moment when in deepest sorrow you were comforted. When you were strengthened. Think of that moment, be grateful for it, and let that gratitude grow into love.
And then think of what you can do for Him. What can you do to serve God? Step by step, day by day, your heart will soften. Your motivation will transform to love. Your righteous desires will grow stronger and more important to you. And then your actions will become great acts of faith.
And you will become the person you are supposed to be.