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The Will of the Lord
by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
In our minds, let's go back to the meridian of time and be with the Savior as he teaches the multitude: "But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:7-10.)
The Savior taught that our Father knows what things we have need of before we ask him. And because the Father knows, the Savior teaches us to pray for that will to be done on earth as in heaven.
Let us stretch our minds for a moment and contemplate the heavens. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: "Thy mind, O man!... must stretch as high as the utmost heavens." 1
What is heaven? A "heavenly life" is what we seek. When something is wonderful beyond words, we say it is "heavenly." In the world, the word heaven refers to something that is ideal and sublime. In heaven, would we be hungry? In heaven, would we feel alone? In heaven, would we be bored or feel unfulfilled? In heaven, would we fight and bicker? In heaven, would we find any of the things that cause us great concern and emptiness on earth? Or would heaven be just heavenly?
It would be the expansion and concentration of all of God's love. The heaven we are referring to here is the heaven where God dwells. Therefore, the heavenly life is God's life, or eternal life; it is the kind of life that God lives.
Does God not have all power and knowledge? Aware then of all options and alternatives if there were a better life to be had in all the expanse of eternity, would he not have that life for himself and for his family? Heavenly life is simply the best life. It is worth any price.
In heaven they do God's will. That is why it is heaven. We so often say "it's God will." What does that really mean to us? Why is that so important, and how can we determine his will? Of course, we cannot really comprehend all of his will. He has told us, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9.) However, we do know some things about the nature of God.
We know to some degree that as we are now, God once was; and as he is, we may become. In other words, he knows this path, having been this way before. He is the manifestation of our potential. We know that it is perfected. He has perfect knowledge, power, and feelings. He loves us with a perfect love. He cares for us with a perfect caring. He desires for us to become like him, to share in all that he has, and to experience the ultimate existence. This knowledge as foundation for faith is essential.
From the Lectures on Faith we learn that the first principle upon which faith rests is the idea that God exists, and that we need correct knowledge about his attributes. We cannot have faith in a being we know nothing about. For example, it is important to know that he is perfect and does not vary from day to day. How could we have faith in a being that is as varied or as moody as we may be?
The next step on the path of pure, whole faith is to know that the life we are living is pleasing to him, and that we are living in harmony with his will. The scriptures tell us: "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (1 John 2:17); "Nevertheless, he that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome, and shall receive an inheritance upon the earth when the day of transfiguration shall come" (D&C 63:20).
Sometimes as human beings we may feel a little rebellious, and we may want to do things in our own way. At times like this, let us remember the loving and all-knowing nature of our Father in Heaven and his desire for us to become like him. Freedom is the ability to choose between alternatives, and the greatest freedom is the power and ability to choose from all possible alternatives. That is a condition we can gain only as we live the way he wants us to live and become like him.
To understand the desirability of living in harmony with the will of our Father in Heaven, we must learn and understand his will and then do that will. How can we learn his will? The fundamental principle is the principle of revelationGod communicating with man. Past revelation records how the Lord has dealt with some of his children in times past. The scriptures, then, provide case histories of how the Lord has dealt with various people in various situations, and help us to learn more about our Father's will.
This is similar to what happens in a marriage relationship. As we come to understand the actions, wants, and desires of our spouse, we learn more about his or her mind. So it is with the Lord. We cannot understand many of the things he is trying to tell us or has told us unless we know his ways; then we can begin to understand his mind and will.
To many people, reading the scriptures is a task that is bound with feelings of duty rather than excitement. President Brigham Young gave a great key to making the scriptures have greater meaning to us. He said: "Do you read the scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though you were writing them a thousand, two thousand or five thousand years ago! Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them?''2 When we do as President Young admonishes us, we open ourselves up to more inspiration and revelation.
In our own lives today, we receive revelation through the still, small voice that whispers "Yes, that applies to me." The Prophet Joseph Smith received this kind of revelation when he read in James 1:5 that he should pray and ask God. It was in a similar circumstance that President Joseph E Smith, after reading and contemplating the scriptures, had the vision of the redemption of the dead (D&C 138) opened to his mind. Regular study of the scriptures and meditating upon them are essential for continual revelation.
A process of revelation is described by the Lord in the ninth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, when Oliver Cowdery wanted to help the Prophet Joseph Smith in translating the Book of Mormon. Oliver was taught that he must study things out in his mind and approach the Lord in prayer before the Lord would confirm the truth. It is important to understand that such reasonings are usually spiritual reasoning, and to review in our minds what the Lord has already told us or what he has told others in past scripture and revelation.
That is the kind of preparation described by Moroni prior to the promise given in Moroni 10:4 for a testimony concerning the Book of Mormon: "Remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things." (Moroni 10:3.)
Prayer is the key as we open our hears, seek the Lord, and seek to understand. If we ask, it shall be given; knock, and it shall be opened.
In the vocabulary of revelation, it is important to learn, to listen, and to understand as we pray. Remember again the words of the Savior, who said that the Father knows what we have need of before we ask him. When we open our hearts in prayer, we tune in our souls to hear and understand.
If we stop and feel during prayer, we sometimes hear a still small voice, which enters quietly into our mind and heart. It is so simple and so precise that we often pass it by, thinking that it is just our own idea or a passing thought, not revelation. However, as we reconcile these whisperings to what we know to be true, we soon learn to recognize them; and by recognizing them, we become more able to listen carefully.
The voice of the Spirit has a characteristic of being precise, simple, and penetrating. For example, we may pray, "Father, please help me to become a better parent," and the quiet voice says, Don't yell at your children. And we say, "Oh, that is just my own thinking--that couldn't be from the Lord."
A young man may pray, "Father in Heaven, please help me to get better grades," and the little voice says, Get up early and study. And the young man says, "That couldn't be the voice of the Lord--that's simple and that's too hard. What I really need is the Lord's help in getting good grades on the test."
Or a young woman may pray, "Father in Heaven, help me to know if I should marry Bill," and the quiet voice says, You know that Bill does not have a strong testimony. And she says to herself, "Well, yes, but that couldn't be an answer to prayer. That is just my own worry. What I need to know is, Should I marry Bill?"
The answers to prayers often have a familiar spirit, for the Lord has already given us answers through Church policy, the scriptures, or counsel from the General Authorities at general conference. If we would only think first, sometimes we would have less need to ask except to gain confirmation by the Spirit. We don't have to ask the Lord whether we should marry outside of the temple.
One helpful approach to determining the will of the Lord is to try to ask important questions during times when we know we are in tune. We are in tune when we go to a beautiful testimony meeting and feel tears forming in our eyes. We know we are on the right wavelength when we feel the sweetness and love for the gospel as we pray; and as we ask, we feel good, our thoughts are positive, and it seems right. We have received the witness. That doesn't mean the witness will not fade and that there will not be temptations and fears as we approach the day at the altar. But we have had a witness, and now we must live true to the witness.
In contrast, suppose that in that special moment, we ask and then doubts come into our minds. We are full of concern, and the soft assurance doesn't come at that moment. How did we feel during one of our best moments? Maybe we didn't feel very good. Is that not a clear answer, one that now requires our action?
Ofttimes we complain about not knowing the will of the Lord when actually we do know--or at least suspect we know but we prefer to live with the question rather than the answer. An example of this kind of inner dishonesty would be a person who seeks the Lord's will concerning marriage to a particular mate with whom he or she has a deep emotional or physical attraction but who has not had the question confirmed by the Spirit. Instead of bowing to the Lord's love and wisdom, the person goes ahead with the marriage, preferring to live with the question rather than the answer. Such misjudgment brings dire consequences that must be guarded against continually.
Now, having determined the necessity of attuning our will to that of the Father's, we come to the most challenging part of our gospel life: learning to do the will of the Lord. Section three of the Doctrine and Covenants gives us some very important insight on this point: "For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him." (D&C 3:4.)
There are so many influences on our will, things of the flesh, things of men, that to conquer our will and to be able to offer to the Lord a broken heart and contrite spirit is a considerable challenge. (See John 1:13.) This is the process of being born again to a new life, a life that is oriented to service and the Savior.
Probably the most profound and instructive experience of conquering one's will and making one's answer be "Thy will be done" is found in the touching scene in the garden as the Savior prayed. He cried out to the Father with his mortal voice, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me," and then answered with his pure heart: "Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Matthew 26:39.)
Even the perfect life of the Savior was such that when faced with the greatest challenge in the eternities, he prayed that he might not partake. But trusting himself to the Father, he submitted and partook, became fully glorified, and received of the Father's fullness. (See D&C 93.)
Each of us approaches many tasks in life. Whether in the quiet struggles that few see or the more obvious Gethsemanes, we struggle to control ourselves and to submit ourselves. I believe that alone, we cannot be successful. Satan is too clever, the temptations of the world and of ego and of pride are too great, and the test is too long. But through the Mediator, we can succeed. He passed this way before us, and he has paid the price.
This leads us to the process of making covenants and participating in ordinances, which are sources of power as we realize the importance of the Lord's will in our lives and have faith in it. Such faith turns us toward the Savior, his life, and his unconditional love for us. As these truths sink into our hearts, we hear him requiring the sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit. We must give up the ways of the world and accept and do his way.
We need to develop the "do it" approach. Often we go through periods of struggle and concern to determine the will of the Lord, and then, as a great temptation is in our path, we approach it as if we were going to labor and wrestle all the night to overcome the opposition. Yet often all we need to do is to not do it when we are being tempted. It is easier to get up in the morning for five minutes of scripture study than to worry and struggle over it for very long. Soon we get to the point at which we forget about all the gimmicks we need to help us, and we just do it.
Doing the will of the Lord is the whole essence of the priesthood process: we have authority to do the will of the Lord, not what we please. That is what the priesthood is. The power of the priesthood, coupled with proper authority, brings the full blessings it offers. This is the same process for the sisters and in the ministry of motherhood. The power comes when we take care to do the Lord's will in the details of child rearing.
I bear testimony that our Father does have all knowledge and power. He does love us absolutely and wants for us the best. That is his will. My prayer is that we will listen and do.
(See Basic Beliefs home page; Doctrines of the Gospel home page; Prayer, Fasting, and Revelation home page)
Finding Peace in Our Lives, Chapter 22
Copyright by Deseret Book
1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 137.
2. Journal of Discourses 7:33.
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