Sunday, January 29, 2017

Learning to Live an Eternal Life

There is a well-known proverb of the Cherokee Native American tribe that warns, "Don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes." Harper Lee expounded in her classic book, To Kill a Mockingbird, when she wrote: "You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

There are several benefits to really getting to know someone. Turning to another literary source, Orson Scott Card mused in his book, Ender's Game, that "I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves."

We develop greater empathy and compassion for others as we learn to understand them. By taking a walk in someone else's shoes, we also get to see how their chosen lifestyle leads to the results we see on the surface. We see the discipline and drive of the successful businessman, the passion and long hours of an accomplished artist, or the integrity and virtue of someone enjoying peace of conscience.

The lifestyle of the Mormon pioneers might not be one you would be quick to choose for yourself. At least, not at first. They were persecuted, betrayed, driven from place to place, and endured incredible challenges. Yet, they were also a unified people, blessed with faith and resolve, and among the most productive the world has ever seen. Consider, they built a great city not once, but several times over. Nauvoo rivaled Chicago in size and enterprise. Groups of saints contributed to the rise of Salt Lake City, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Boise and dozens of others-- and in each place they were innovators of the railroad, irrigation, guns, and technology of every sort. Clearly, the early saints knew the secrets of an abundant life.

All around the world, LDS youth groups have the chance every few years to really get to know the pioneer ancestors of their faith as they recreate some of the conditions experienced while crossing the Great Plains. Pushing handcarts in period clothing inspires sore muscles and spiritual growth as youth begin to experience what faith looks like. It can inspire greater courage in the face of difficult trials, a stronger work ethic, and a more passionate resolve to press forward. In short, coming to know the early pioneers teaches the youth how to be modern pioneers.

In similar fashion, our Father in Heaven wants us all to really get to know him and the way he lives. The principles that guide his life will teach us to have the same happiness, success and peace he enjoys. The Savior taught, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3).

We come to know our Father and His Son the same way that our youth come to know their pioneer ancestors. Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained: "To know God is to think what he thinks, to feel what he feels, to have the power he possesses, to comprehend the truths he understands, and to do what he does. Those who know God become like him and have his kind of life, which is eternal."

Eternal life is said to be the greatest of all the gifts of God, but it isn't a gift in the sense of a present we open at Christmastime. It is much more like the decades of memories and lessons we get as a gift from our families and loved ones. As we seek to be like God-- to think what he thinks and do what he does-- we experience glimpses into his eternal lifestyle that teach us about our own path to happiness and success. Over time and extending into our lives after death, we will come to know him better because we will have adopted his lifestyle. We are then able to see the world as he sees it and comprehend the universe as he understands it. At the same time, we will receive of his glory and the countless blessings he enjoys because we are living according to the principles upon which those blessings are predicated.

Said another way, eternal life isn't an object like a car or a book or a new tie; nor is it an opportunity in the same sense as a new job or a chance to move to California. Rather, eternal life is a lifestyle that contributes to our health and happiness, develops even our weaknesses into strengths and unites families even beyond the grave. It is God's lifestyle, and he's already told us how we can start living it and being blessed by it.

You may know the Divine Lifestyle Plan by it's other name: the Gospel. At it's core, living the gospel includes trusting in God, striving to improve ourselves, making and keeping sacred covenants, receiving all the benefits of the Holy Ghost in our lives and actively enduring through life's trials with the patience and faith of the pioneers.

Anchored to that core are many more beautiful truths that add richness to our budding eternal lives. For example, the gospel teaches that "if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come" (D&C 130:19). The joys of reading and education are joys of an eternal life. God comprehends all things and reaps the benefits of that knowledge; each of us are similarly blessed proportional to our studies.

Likewise, the Lord taught that "in the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into... marriage" (D&C 131:1-2). Marriage between a man and a woman is a divinely ordained practice essential to a Godlike lifestyle. The love and support we have in our families continues to grow as we learn to know our Father and strive to emulate his Son.

Learning to live as God lives also means learning to have robust moral character. Teenagers walking through a wilderness area develop character because the trail is hard and through the difficulty of their trek they are reminded of their many blessings allow their hearts to turn to pioneers who sacrificed so much for them. Godlike character, Elder Bednar has taught, "is demonstrated by looking and reaching outward when the natural and instinctive response is to be self-absorbed and turn inward."

We observe the character of Christ throughout the gospels, but perhaps nowhere is it more poignant than in the chapters leading up to and including his suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross at Golgotha. Never in the history of mankind has anyone had a better reason to focus on themselves for a few moments; but Christ never does. In the Garden he prays, "not my will, but thine be done." When confronted by Judas and the mob, he petitions for his disciples to be allowed to leave unharmed. He reassured his disciples, healed the ear of Malchus, sought Pilate's spiritual wellbeing, found someone to care for his mother, ministered to two robbers, and asked for his persecutors to be forgiven-- all while being condemned, abused and tortured to his death.

Most of us will not be asked to die for someone else, but we are called upon to take up our cross and live Christlike lives. Though our own burdens may be heavy, developing the character needed for an eternal lifestyle means we should look and reach outward even when our natural and instinctive response is to turn inward. As we extend the hand of mercy to those less fortunate than ourselves, retrieve the lost sheep, visit the sick and elderly, serve as home and visiting teachers, teach our primary or Sunday school class with patience and love, respond to a questioning coworker and support righteous causes in an increasingly wicked world, we act as God would act and, with the help of his grace, qualify for his divine blessings.

The Lord has said that his work and glory is the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39). Immortality is a gift to all of us by virtue of his Atonement. Eternal life is the gift of his life-- to live as he lives and become as he is. We learn his lifestyle by beginning to live it today-- doing what he would do, thinking what he would think, studying to know all he understands, and praying for guidance along the way. It includes men being ordained and attending to priesthood duties, men and women getting married and sealed in holy temples, and all of us loving and serving others and letting our light shine in an increasingly dark world.

As we come to know God, our Father, and his son, Jesus Christ, we will also come to love them. President Russell M. Nelson has taught, "The best evidence of our adoration of Jesus is our emulation of Him." That is, the best evidence of our respect for Christ and His Atonement is our willingness to use it so that his life and death will not have been in vain-- to adopt a gospel-centered lifestyle, his lifestyle, that maximizes its benefit.

Our Heavenly Father has given us this life so that we might have the chance to walk a mile in his shoes. Wearing bodies of flesh and blood and burdened with the cares of the world, we are given the opportunity to experience what faith feels like. If we will choose to take up our cross and press forward with faith in every footstep, we will learn to be spiritually minded, to have charity, to seek learning by study and by faith, and to serve others even when we are struggling. In short, by coming to know God, our Eternal Father, and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent, we learn to be like him and to live an eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.

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