Monday, March 5, 2012

The Most Joyous to the Soul

At some time in life, and to varying degrees throughout life, all of us seek to know if God is real and if he is mindful of us. The history of man is filled with accounts of men and women from every continent, ethnic group and generation seeking communion with an all-powerful, all-knowing deity. Something about it just feels natural.

We feel the stirring in our souls when we stare up at a star-filled sky or breathe in a scenic mountain sunrise. We feel peace in our hearts when we look out over a calm ocean horizon or stop to notice the great breadth of a clear blue sky. Paul explains that these feelings of gratitude and awe are from God, our Heavenly Father: "The work of the law [is] written in [our] hearts, [our] conscience also bearing witness" (Romans 2:15). And again, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with out spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16). No wonder our hearts reach out to God so often when we long for happiness and joy; our conscience testifies that such comes from God.

Nephi shared what he learned by the Spirit: "The love of God... sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore it is the most desirable above all things... and the most joyous to the soul" (1 Nephi 11:22-23). Using the superlative "most" in both cases should capture our attention. Our souls, regardless of our conscious thought, most want to feel the love of God. This is what would bring us the most joy-- more than any other thing we could do or say or think or feel.

So how do we obtain the love of God?

First, we must understand how God extends his love to us. John wrote that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Elder Maxwell expounded:

Because of that profound gift of divine love, all mankind will be resurrected (1 Cor. 15:22). In truth, God 'loveth the world' (2 Nephi 26:24). He crafted this planet to be inhabited by us, His spirit children (Isaiah 45:18). We are, in fact, at the center of God's 'work and glory,' the very focus of which is to 'bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man' (Moses 1:39). What could be more indicative? More declarative? More redemptive? ("Whom the Lord Loveth", 36).

God extends his love to us through the Creation, the Atonement, the Resurrection and thousands of tender mercies, answered prayers and whispered directions in between. In short, we are safe to conclude that God extends his love to us through Christ, our Mediator, Creator, Savior and King.

So we may improve our question: "How do we access the love of God through Christ?"

Nephi's commentary is very useful in reaching this goal. Interpreting his father's dream, Nephi writes that the center figure of the vision, a tree bearing fruit, was symbolic of the love of God. His father, Lehi, describes the fruit as, "desirable to make one happy", "most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted", and "white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen". In the midst of fog, noise and confusion, two markers led the way to the tree: an iron rod and a narrow path.

The iron rod is symbolic of the world of God. So we know that the word of God leads to the love of God; or, that scripture points the way to Christ. Yet, knowing how to get there is not the same as being there. Holding fast to the iron rod, we must also walk along the narrow path. We must act upon what we know to be true. Several scripture passages emphasize that walking along the path especially includes having faith, repenting of our sins, being baptized by immersion for the remission of sins and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

Just as knowledge without actions is static, if we act without knowledge we can become lost in the fog and confusion of the world. If we are to experience the most joy our soul can possibly experience, we must combine the pursuit of knowledge through regular scripture study with a willingness to continually improve our ability to obey the commandments of God we find in scripture.

It is also of no coincidence that our pursuit of the love of God will require us to develop charity, the pure and everlasting love of Christ in our hearts. This is a very robust, sincere kind of love. As we learn to love our fellow man as Christ loves them, and as we learn and act more upon what we know, we will find that we have become a great deal like our Savior, Jesus Christ, and our Father in Heaven.

This is what brings the greatest possible joy to our souls. Putting forth the required effort, we become as He is-- granting us the same blessings that he now enjoys. Justified and sanctified by the power of the Atonement, we may recognize and feel the love of God.

Our incomprehensible potential should affect how we see the world. In the stars or the flowers or the smiles of small children we catch a glimpse of God's love-- reminders of what could be. In the commandments of God, we find the keys to our success and the map to our desired destination. In obedient and righteous action we bring ourselves nearer to the goal and expand our capacity for love and joy through frequent application.

What a joy it truly is, then, to be as involved as we possibly can in the learning and living of gospel principles! A work with so great a reward could never be a burden. With cheerful hearts and scriptures in hand, we can grab hold of the iron rod and take another step or two toward the greatest joy for our souls. We can do it today. We can start now.

May God bless each of us in our journey to become as He is.

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