Christ’s Advice on Loyalty to and Trust in God

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)

In Matthew 6, Christ continues with the Sermon on the Mount. As I studied this chapter, I found that there are six main categories of advice that He gives (both a do and a do not). He gives us advice on giving alms, prayer, forgiveness, fasting, prioritization, and loyalty to and trust in God.

Today, we’ll focus on the final point taught in Matthew 6 – our loyalty to and trust in God. We’ll learn about unintended worship of mammon, trusting in God, and seeking His kingdom. Finally, we’ll look at the Atonement and see how this teaching helped Him to perform His sacred work.

Loyalty to God

Do

  • Do remember that it is impossible to serve both God and mammon.
  • Do remember that life is more than meat. (What we eat.)
  • Do remember that our body is more than our raiment. (How we clothe ourselves.)
  • Do remember that God knows our needs.
  • Do seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Don’t

  • Do not attempt to serve two masters.
  • Do not take thought for life – what you’ll eat, drink, wear, etc.
  • Do not be materialistic.
  • Do not take thought for the morrow; the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.

We will study this section by breaking it down into three main parts.

You Cannot Serve Two Masters

The Worship of Mammon, Evelyn De Morgan
The Worship of Mammon, Evelyn De Morgan

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” – Matthew 6:24

So – the Savior teaches us here that we can’t serve two masters. And who are our masters that we, at times, attempt to serve simultaneously? God and Mammon.

Mammon. I decided to look this word up. I’m familiar with it, of course, but just to be sure that I wasn’t assuming anything, I looked up the definition in the dictionary and found that Mammon is idolatry, treasure, worldliness.

It seems like it would be an easy thing not to do. Who, while worshipping Christ, would also worship mammon? It seems hypocritical. And while Christ often spoke to the Pharisees about hypocrisy, it’s important to remember that the Sermon on the Mount was given to the disciples. So – this is an issue that we believers really need to be concerned with. Our attempt to serve two masters might be happening more often than we think.

Ways we might be serving Mammon rather than God:

  • Excessive consumption of TV and media. Do celebrities and social networking become our “gods”? (I admit that I have a difficulty with internet and media! And I know that it gets in the way with my own ability to be serve God).
  • Addiction to food, drugs, pornography, or gambling These things become our “god” rather than the Lord. In many cases, these addictions can turn us against God. I understand that addiction is real, and I don’t want to make light of the situation for so many. I also know that in order to really beat an addiction, we have to submit to something else – God! We can’t serve to masters. Either our addictions will strip us away from God, or God will save us from our addictions.
  • Consumer Debt. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and have come to the conclusion that being in excessive debt is our attempt to serve two masters. We think that we’re serving God, but we have this other master – Visa or the Bank – that we must answer to. The master of debt never sleeps. It accrues interest. It burdens us. Not only that, but how can we possibly serve God fully if we have the master of excessive consumer debt. I could go on about this, but don’t want to for this post. Maybe it is something that I will write about later in another blog post.

In any and each of the above mentioned forms of mammon (and I’m sure that there are more than what I just now came up with), we cannot serve God as we serve this other beast. It’s impossible.

It is impossible to multitask our allegiances.

Not only that, but the thought that we can is insidious – we will end up loving the one and hating the other.

Take No Thought

Interestingly enough, the scripture about serving God and Mammon isn’t the end of the chapter. It is a part of this series of verses. I have always thought of this scripture on its own – rather than it its context. Thinking about how it fits into the entire chapter of Matthew 6 might shed light on how serving mammon will turn us away from God.

In the very next verse, the Savior asks,

“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.” – Matthew 6:25

I’ve been thinking about why this verse follows the “no man can serve two masters” verse. It’s because they are related.

Instead of serving the master of mammon – worldliness and materialism – we ought to serve the Lord. We know this. And what usually gets in the way? Well – besides our tendency to be like raccoons (shiny stuff!), we kind of get wrapped up in our day-to-day needs.

Of course, we should be self-sufficient, and that’s something to consider. But the Lord is telling his disciples not to take any thought for their life. Instead, they should focus their efforts on something else.

This topic (just like the serving two masters topic) could be studied even further, but the point I want to make is this – instead of getting hung up on many of the details in our lives, we need to trust in God. He knows what we need. He knows that we need food, shelter, and clothing. He has created this entire earth – including us – and He understands the conditions of our lives. He will help us with them!

Our perceived needs should never trump our devotion to God.

Seek First the Kingdom of God

Just to be clear – I don’t think that the Lord is telling us to be lazy bums. He’s not telling us to get stuff for free from others who have more than we do. He’s not telling us to get everything we need from the government. This isn’t some kind of economic or political treatise.

In fact, I think that this is the exact opposite. He’s letting us in on the secret to how we can get all of our true needs met. Christ is telling us the order and pattern of His kingdom. He’s teaching us how to prioritize our efforts. And we can rest assured that we will be blessed for our obedience. Whether we are blessed now, temporally, or in the next life, we will be blessed for keeping His commandments.

The Savior explains:

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” – Matthew 6:33

Before we seek clothing, food, shelter, entertainment, or anything else, we should seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. When we prioritize the Lord, then the other needs we have will fall into place.

I actually think that it might go deeper than that, too.

I know that when I have started to prioritize the Lord’s kingdom first, before what I considered were my “needs,” I got a better idea of what my actual needs were. The Lord has not only sustained me in life, but He has molded me into a better person who isn’t always claiming to need another bigger, better thing. I’ve come to learn more about what is of true worth and value in this world.

When we choose to serve God over mammon, take no thought of our daily “needs”, and seek God’s kingdom, we show our loyalty to God and learn to rise above materialism. We learn to prioritize God’s kingdom, and trust that He will provide a way for us to have what we need and when we need it.

The Savior, of course, is a perfect example of this.

Christ’s Atonement

The Savior was a simple man from a simple background. It’s safe to say that He didn’t get caught up in a rat race to get ahead. He knew who He was. He knew whom He worshipped. And, above all, He sought His Father’s Kingdom.

During the act of the Atonement, we see this come together.

Only complete devotion to God would be able to empower Christ to get through the agony He suffered in Gethsemane. Even a single deeply-residing devotion toward the world would have nullified everything He did. He was perfectly loyal to God; He loved God perfectly.

Christ didn’t seem to take any thought of what He would eat, drink, wear, or do during this great work. He didn’t worry. He knew a trade – He was a carpenter – and I suppose that He had supported Himself before His ministry. He wasn’t out “bumming” off of people. Additionally, he wasn’t fretting about His retirement plan, His job, His house. He didn’t worry about having the latest in sandals or togas. He was secure that His needs would be met. He completely trusted His father.

During the Atonement, He didn’t take any thought of what would happen to Him later on. He lived in the present moment, always seeking God’s kingdom and fully submitting to every horrible thing that He was subjected to. He was burdened with the weight of the world in Gethsemane, judged and mocked in Jerusalem, and then crucified on Calvary. Yet he took no thought for Himself. Instead, He healed a centurion’s ear, saw to it that His mother was taken care of, and forgave the Romans who crucified Him.

Because of His consecration and complete devotion to God, all that God had was added to Him. He inherited glory and power. He overcame death. And because He diligently sought the Kingdom of God, He can offer it to all of us.

***
Our own potential can only be reached when we completely submit ourselves to God and give up worldliness. It can be difficult. But, instead of letting our minds be clouded by fears and worries, we should look to build His kingdom and trust that He will prepare a way for us to keep the commandments He has given to us.

***
Thanks for reading this today. I’m not sure that it is my best writing. My mind is hazy. This has been in my queue for a long time. Even though this might be written in a pretty confusing way, I feel the concept here with clarity. I know that we cannot serve two masters. I keep learning more and more about myself – how much pride and fear that I have. They reside deep in my soul and take so much to get rid of.

I know that as I look to the Savior’s example, I am encouraged. I can seek God’s kingdom. I can worry less about the details of my life and trust in the Lord. I can trust that He hears my prayers, understands my needs, and that He knows me, personally.

What do you do to “take no thought”? How do you seek Him? How have you benefitted by serving God rather than mammon?

The Atonement: Christ’s Advice on Fasting

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ – Assignment for Matthew 6

“1. In Matthew 6, Christ is still teaching the Sermon on the Mount that began in chapter 5. Specifically, He is speaking to His apostles and servants in the church. His teachings—His ministry—are a part of His primary purpose and are the set up to His eventual Atonement. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings in this chapter fit into the work of the Atonement, the Plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.

2. In this chapter, we have examples of how not to do and how to do certain things. What are these things? What does Christ teach about them? Can you think of times when Christ models the way to do what He is teaching? How does His example help you to better understand Christ and your relationship with Him? How does understanding the way He serves, fasts, and prays help you to gain insight on the act of the Atonement?

3. Think of the last major section of this chapter (“Take no thought for your own life…” in verse 25). How did Christ exemplify this? How does the Atonement help us “not to take thought of our own lives”? Is there anything we can do to work out our salvation on our own? What do we rely on in order to receive salvation? How can you apply His example in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew

So – in Matthew 6, Christ continues with the Sermon on the Mount. As I studied this chapter, I found that there are six main categories of advice that He gives (both a do and a do not). He teaches us how to give alms, pray, forgive, fast, manage our finances/materialism, remain loyal to God.

Today, we’ll focus on fasting.

Sermon on the Mount, by Harry Anderson
Sermon on the Mount, by Harry Anderson

Fasting

Do

  • Do anoint thy head and wash thy face
  • Do fast in a manner which is only obvious to God

Don’t

  • Don’t have a sad countenance so that you appear to be fasting to others.

Why?
Before exploring how Christ exemplified this during His act of the Atonement, I think that it is helpful to consider why Christ gave us this advice in the first place.

What does the Savior mean when He teaches us to “anoint thy head and was thy face”? I have to admit, I’ve never thought much about this before.

We learn more about anointing in the Bible Dictionary:

“To apply oil or ointment to the head or the person. Anciently anointing was done for reasons both secular and sacred. It is a sign of hospitality in Luke 7:46 and of routine personal grooming in 2 Sam. 12:20 and Matt. 6:17.” – Bible Dictionary: Anoint

I can’t say that I completely understand what is meant by Matthew 6:17 – other than we can approach our fast in a very reverent manner. The fast isn’t something we do to show off to others. It is a serious practice that can result in miraculous blessings. So – when we fast, we ought to prepare appropriately.

Additionally, we should avoid fasting as the hypocrites do – which is to fast in an ostentatious way: so everyone knows we are fasting. In Matthew 6, we are warned not to have a sad countenance or to disfigure our face. I interpret this to mean that we shouldn’t go about having a sour expression.

I think that this is true for a few reasons.
1) Like prayer, fasting is very personal and is an intimate practice that can help us to focus our thoughts, meditation, and prayers on the Lord. We don’t need to let any other noise into this process. Fasting helps us to remain free from distraction.

Lately, I’ve also learned a lot about fasting. When we are fasting, we start to burn ketones for energy, rather than glucose. Provided that we aren’t addicted to sugar (so we aren’t busy going through the withdrawal symptoms of sugar addiction), fasting can be a way that our body moves into a ketotic state. Our brains are primarily made up of fat and really benefit from burning ketones. When we are fasting, and burning those ketones, our brains are quite alert, and we’re thinking very clearly. I think that this explains why fasting can be such a beneficial thing for us spiritually. Instead of worrying about sugars and our next meal, Insulin is quiet, ketones are being spent, and we’re able to focus more on our thoughts. We experience clarity and closeness to our spirits. This is why fasting has always been beneficial to every religious group. It truly changes us – on a spiritual and physiological level.

In this way, we can be freed from some of the distractions that come from constant feeding, and then let our brains be filled with elevated thoughts and inspiration.

2) We shouldn’t “disfigure our faces” or have a sad countenance because fasting is a joyful exercise.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, we learn:

And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.

Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer.” – Doctrine and Covenants 59:13-14

There is a connection between fasting and joy. Interesting. At first, this seems nearly impossible. But I think that’s because we get so wrapped up in our physical needs and limitations.

When we learn to put off the natural man, (and what better way to do that than through fasting!), we become liberated. We experience joy and progression when we jump off the hamster wheel that is the “natural man.”

Now, I recognize that fasting can be difficult. I have faced this. If you are finding fasting difficult -rather than joyful – I invite you to examine your diet. Are you eating too much sugar? Are you eating foods that drive up insulin, cause leptin resistance, throw all of your hormones out of whack, and continually reinforce hunger? I have and currently am in a struggle with this. However, I have found that with cutting sugar and drastically reducing my consumption of processed foods (and most grains), and instead eating more fats, I’ve been able to fast more. I’ve been liberated from that constant hunger. And finally, I am beginning to understand what it means to experience REJOICING and prayer when I am fasting. Diet seriously makes a difference. That’s not the point of this blog post, but I wanted to include it because it’s possible.

And maybe our diet on regular days has more to do with fasting than we realize.

Maybe fasting often, in a true manner, will help us to maintain control in our lives on a regular basis. I don’t think that the Lord wants us to fast one day a month, and then live an unhealthy and gluttonous life for 30 days. Ultimately, we should become masters of our entire lives – spirits, emotions, minds, and bodies. Fasting can help us to achieve this.

Okay…sorry about that diversion. I’m kind of thinking out loud here, I know.

3)I think that Christ addressed fasting in this way – associated with sorrow and with the instruction to be anointed and washed because of the customs common in His day. In the Bible Dictionary, we learn:

“The Day of Atonement appears to be the only fast ordered by the law. Other fasts were instituted during the exile (Zech. 7:3–5; 8:19); and after the return, fasting is shown to be a regular custom (Luke 5:33; 18:12). It was regarded as a natural way of showing sorrow. Along with the fasting were often combined other ceremonies, such as rending of the garments, putting on sackcloth, refraining from washing the face or anointing with oil (2 Sam. 12:20; 1 Kgs. 21:27; Isa. 58:5). All such observances were, of course, liable to become mere formalities, and the danger of this was recognized by the prophets (Isa. 58:3–7; Joel 2:12–13; Zech. 7:5–6; see also Matt. 6:16–18).

By Christ’s time, fasting was associated with the one formal fast ordered by Mosaic Law – The Day of Atonement. That Day was set apart for showing the sorrow for sin and promising not to do them again. I suppose that, over time, fasting became associated with this holy day, and not much else.

I kind of wonder if something similar has happened in our own day.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also have a day that is set aside for fasting – Fast Sunday. On the first Sunday of each month, we fast by skipping two meals (or refraining from eating and drinking for 24 hours). It is suggest then use the money that we would have spent on our food and donate it to the poor.

It’s a nice tradition.

However, I must admit, I usually fast only once a month. I have grown accustomed to it. Often, I have looked at it like a chore – rather than a gateway to enlightenment and joy.

Fasting is so much more than a demonstration of sorrow. It is so much more than something Mormons do on the first of the month. Fasting strengthens us and teaches us.

When explaining how he had received His testimony, Alma the Younger explains:

“Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.” – Alma 5:46

When the apostles were unable to cast out a devil, the Lord told them how to develop their faith:

“Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” – Matthew 17:21

The Sons of Mosiah were men of a “sound understanding.” This came because they had searched the scriptures. We also learn this about them:

“But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” – Alma 17:3

I guess, what I’m trying to say is – fasting should be more than the tradition. It is a method to unlocking the mysteries of God in our own lives. If we approach it this way – rather than by rote mindlessness, we will find fasting to be a source of strength, joy, and enlightenment.

Why else would we go without food?!

Christ, the Atonement, and Fasting
I have no real reason to guess that Christ was fasting while He peformed the Atonement. Okay, I have no idea, actually.

The whole event really started at the Last Supper. So, He ate and drank there. Then, Christ went and suffered in the garden of Gethsemane. No mention of food or drink. So – he might not have been eating. I’m not sure if this would be considered a formal fast or not. Like I said, I have no idea.

After suffering in the garden of Gethsemane, He was betrayed, judged, and condemned. He suffered on the Christ, and finally, when His work was complete, He asked for a little to drink. He was thirsty and was handed a cup of vinegar.

Even though there is nothing to suggest that Christ fasted formally during the period of the Atonement, we know that He did fast for 40 days and nights before He began His ministry. This practice is an example of what would be necessary in order for Christ to perform His great work of the Atonement and to give the ultimate sacrifice of His life. Christ understood the power of the fast, employed it in His life, and taught His disciples to use it as a tool to sharpen their faith and grow closer to the Spirit.

***
What does this part of Christ’s sermon on the mount teach you about fasting? How has fasting been a benefit to you in your life? If you haven’t fasted, what do you think that you can do to implement it in your life?

The Atonement: Christ’s Advice about Forgiveness

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ – Assignment for Matthew 6

“1. In Matthew 6, Christ is still teaching the Sermon on the Mount that began in chapter 5. Specifically, He is speaking to His apostles and servants in the church. His teachings—His ministry—are a part of His primary purpose and are the set up to His eventual Atonement. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings in this chapter fit into the work of the Atonement, the Plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.

2. In this chapter, we have examples of how not to do and how to do certain things. What are these things? What does Christ teach about them? Can you think of times when Christ models the way to do what He is teaching? How does His example help you to better understand Christ and your relationship with Him? How does understanding the way He serves, fasts, and prays help you to gain insight on the act of the Atonement?

3. Think of the last major section of this chapter (“Take no thought for your own life…” in verse 25). How did Christ exemplify this? How does the Atonement help us “not to take thought of our own lives”? Is there anything we can do to work out our salvation on our own? What do we rely on in order to receive salvation? How can you apply His example in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew

So – in Matthew 6, Christ continues with the Sermon on the Mount. As I studied this chapter, I found that there are six main categories of advice that He gives (both a do and a do not). He teaches us how to give alms, pray, forgive, fast, manage our finances/materialism, remain loyal to God.

This blog post will focus on forgiveness.

The Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount

Forgiveness

Do

  • Do forgive others

Don’t

  • Don’t forgive not – or hold grudges

Very clear advice…

Why Forgiveness Even Matters

I’ve thought a lot about forgiveness over the years. I, like any of you reading this, have been hurt by others. I have also hurt others.

The first thing to ask is why forgive? Why does it even matter?

In Matthew 6, we learn:

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:

But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6:14-15

According to the Savior’s words in these verses, we need to forgive others so we can be forgiven. It seems cut and dry. But, I have to admit. I’m not completely satisfied with that reasoning. In a way it seems kind of like there is this big scoreboard in Heaven with tally marks showing the offenses we’ve received and the times we’ve forgiven others. In other words, it feels like a “rule.” As if Heavenly Father is in heaven saying, Well, you haven’t forgiven so and so…so I can’t help you. (Can you imagine Him saying that, eyes closed, nose in the air? Nope. Neither can I.)

I have come to learn that there is always much more to every commandment than the idea that it is simply an arbitrary commandment.

So…let’s think about this more…

If you look at the context of the advice on forgiveness, Christ says it while He is teaching about prayer. Hmmmm….We have discussed Christ’s advice on prayer here, and we have learned that prayer, alone, was powerful enough to sustain Christ through the Atonement.

Forgiveness is related to prayer. And if we want to have power, then forgiveness is a part of that.

I’m not completely sure why. I feel like I’m figuring this out in my own life. For many years – if not most of my life – my prayers have really struggled. I mean, really bad. I would say them, but it was kind of a chore. Of course I experienced powerful prayers from time to time, but I just can’t say that I ever really figured out how to pray in a way that would bring the kind of power I desired in my life.

Recently, I have started meditating and combining it with prayer. Such mindfulness has helped me immensely. The thing I’ve really learned a lot is that in order for us to pray in the way that Christ has taught, we have to be one with God. The Bible dictionary teaches:

“Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. – Bible Dictionary: Prayer

So – the goal of prayer, as so perfectly exemplified by the Savior, is to align our will with God’s. Because of Christ’s prayer, he was able to secure that which God was willing to bless Him with (an Angel, power to perform the Atonement, the power to be resurrected). This only happened because Christ’s will was aligned with God’s.

Obviously, a major part of prayer is the alignment of will. And I think that this is where forgiveness really figures into the equation. If we want to align our will with God, then we need to become more like Him. We need to free ourselves from fear (which gets in the way of faith) and also of contention (which is of the devil). In doing so, we will have faith and we will forgive. It is this mental clarity that will then set the stage for powerful prayer.

Can we really pray if we’re wrapped up in emotions like fear, regret, hatred, or jealousy? Can we really expect to find power in prayer – enough power in prayer to come off conquerer over Satan – if we are consumed with his contentious and unforgiving spirit while praying? (See Doctrine and Covenants 10:5).

I think that when we think of the connection between forgiveness and prayer, and when we think of the potential power of prayer, then the commandment to forgive doesn’t come off as a rule given from a power hungry God as much as it is a hint! It’s the secret to success! It’s the way for us to become the people we want to be. Forgiveness will give us freedom and clarity. And it will make the way available for us to pray powerfully.

Christ, Forgiveness, and the Atonement

The Atonement really is all about forgiveness. The sacrifice of the Atonement was given so that Christ could fulfill the demands of justice while offering us a way to receive mercy. Because of Christ’s Atonement, God is both a just and a forgiving God. It is impossible to separate forgiveness and the Atonement.

While the entire Atonement revolves around concepts of love and forgiveness, Christ also exemplifies His advice – to forgive – in a very specific way.

Christ forgave those who crucified Him while He was being crucified!
Christ forgave those who crucified Him while He was being crucified!

In Luke, we read:

“Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” – Luke 23:34

Christ forgave those who crucified Him while He was being crucified. Imagine that! Wouldn’t this have been a good time to teach them a lesson? Could you imagine? He would have had every right to say, “Excuse me. Do you know who I am. What do you think you’re doing???”

Instead of trying to condemn them, trying to “correct” them or teach them a lesson, Christ simply accepted the situation. Those soldiers were ignorant. They had no idea what they were doing. Christ forgave them. And it was relatively simple because He knew that they were clueless.

When we look at the whole picture, we will often find that those who harm us may also be “clueless.” When we look at the whole picture, we will often find that nothing we do or say will change a person – so it is better to simply accept them and then move onto the phase of forgiving them, rather than hold onto our pride and grudges. Typically, we can’t change people. So why waste the time trying? Instead, when we forgive, we relieve ourselves of the burden of the pain we’ve experienced. We are then able to let go and enjoy liberty.

Christ shows us this perfectly, by forgiving those who crucified Him. Because He forgave them, He was able again to focus on His work – which would require His entire attention. He couldn’t waste a single ounce of energy being angry with another person. His forgiveness enabled Him to finish his work, return to Heavenly Father, and be resurrected.

***
What do you think about forgiveness? Have you been able to forgive those who have wronged you? If you have, how did this forgiveness liberate you and enable the power of the Atonement to take effect in your life? If you haven’t forgiven another, what do you think that you can do to forgive them?

The Atonement: Christ’s Advice on Prayer

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ – Assignment for Matthew 6

“1. In Matthew 6, Christ is still teaching the Sermon on the Mount that began in chapter 5. Specifically, He is speaking to His apostles and servants in the church. His teachings—His ministry—are a part of His primary purpose and are the set up to His eventual Atonement. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings in this chapter fit into the work of the Atonement, the Plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.

2. In this chapter, we have examples of how not to do and how to do certain things. What are these things? What does Christ teach about them? Can you think of times when Christ models the way to do what He is teaching? How does His example help you to better understand Christ and your relationship with Him? How does understanding the way He serves, fasts, and prays help you to gain insight on the act of the Atonement?

3. Think of the last major section of this chapter (“Take no thought for your own life…” in verse 25). How did Christ exemplify this? How does the Atonement help us “not to take thought of our own lives”? Is there anything we can do to work out our salvation on our own? What do we rely on in order to receive salvation? How can you apply His example in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew

So – in Matthew 6, Christ continues with the Sermon on the Mount. As I studied this chapter, I found that there are six main categories of advice that He gives (both a do and a do not). He teaches us how to give alms, pray, forgive, fast, manage our finances/materialism, remain loyal to God.

This blog post will focus on prayer.

The Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount

Prayer

Do

  • Enter into your closet, shut the door, and pray
  • Address Heavenly Father, who is Holy
  • Pray for His will to be done
  • Pray for His kingdom to come to the earth (This includes pryaing for others – even our enemies!
  • Ask for assistance in your needs
  • Ask for forgiveness
  • Ask for strength to do what we were sent here to do

Don’t

  • Don’t pray like a hypocrite
  • Don’t pray in front of others, simply to be seen by them
  • Don’t use vain repetitions. In other words, don’t mindlessly speak to God, by rote. Make it meaningful!

Prayer, Christ and the Atonement
Christ teaches us about prayer – not only in word here in Matthew 6, but also in deed. We can read of a few examples of His prayers in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon.

Based on what Christ teaches in Matthew 6, we see that Christ understands the true purpose of prayer: communication with God. I want to break that down further – prayer is our chance to commune with God. When I think of it as communing, the concept of prayer becomes more personal, sacred, and intimate. That is exactly what prayer should be.

Christ actually exemplifies this when He performs the Atonement. In fact, prayer is one of the most important parts of the Atonement.

In Matthew, we read:

“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.

Christ knew that He was going to perform the Atonement. Prayer was always a crucial part of it. Christ explained what He was doing in the garden as praying.

And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.

Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.

As the Savior begins to take on the sins of the world, he feels sorrowful and heavy. He felt so stressed by the sins He was taking on, that he felt sorrowful unto death. He asked Peter, James, and John to accompany Him. He sought comfort and camaraderie.

And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

When the Savior left the presence of the apostles, he fell on his face and prayed. He was overcome with the burden of the Atonement. We read some of what Christ prayed for – that the burden He was chosen to bear could pass from Him. He prayed to be relieved of His trial! Christ’s example shows that it is okay to pray for relief.

Of course, he included the essential caveat, “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” Because Christ was one with God, because Christ knew the will of God, He knew that God wouldn’t let the cup pass from Him. Yet He still prayed.

I’m not completely sure of the lesson that is being taught here, but one thing that stands out to me is that the Savior knows that our Father in Heaven is loving and kind. He wants us to share our most intimate thoughts with Him. He can’t help us if we aren’t opening ourselves up to Him in the first place.

Matthew continues:

And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?

After agonizing in the garden of Gethsemane, the Savior finds that the apostles are asleep. He then warns them:

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

I find this interesting. The advice that Christ gave to His disciples – to watch and pray – is the exact method that He is using to get through the hardest trial, temptation, and agony ever felt by man. Christ’s flesh was strengthened and He performed the excruciating work of the Atonement through prayer.

Christ spoke from experience. His spirit was willing, but His flesh was weak. He had prayed that the cup pass from Him because of the flesh. Yet, His Spirit triumphed, thanks to prayer, and he did as the Lord would have Him do.

We then read:

“He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.

And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.

And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.

Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.” – Matthew 26:36-46

We cannot underestimate the power of prayer. It is prayer that He turned to three times as He suffered the sins, pains, and sicknesses of the entire world. It is prayer that enabled Christ to perform the Atonement. Christ didn’t pray to get our approval. He didn’t pray to come off as righteous or pious. He prayed because it was a natural part of His relationship with His Father. His prayer was heartfelt, pure, and meaningful. Though He repeated the words of His prayer a few times, they were no where near “vain or repetitious.” He prayed for strength, and, above all, He prayed for God’s will to be done.

Christ, through the Atonement, exemplifies not only all that prayer should be, but the remarkable power of prayer.

***
What have you learned about prayer as you have studied Matthew 6? What does Christ’s example – especially when He performed the Atonement – teach you about the powerof a true prayer?

The Atonement: Christ’s Advice on Giving Alms

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ – Assignment for Matthew 6

“1. In Matthew 6, Christ is still teaching the Sermon on the Mount that began in chapter 5. Specifically, He is speaking to His apostles and servants in the church. His teachings—His ministry—are a part of His primary purpose and are the set up to His eventual Atonement. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings in this chapter fit into the work of the Atonement, the Plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.

2. In this chapter, we have examples of how not to do and how to do certain things. What are these things? What does Christ teach about them? Can you think of times when Christ models the way to do what He is teaching? How does His example help you to better understand Christ and your relationship with Him? How does understanding the way He serves, fasts, and prays help you to gain insight on the act of the Atonement?

3. Think of the last major section of this chapter (“Take no thought for your own life…” in verse 25). How did Christ exemplify this? How does the Atonement help us “not to take thought of our own lives”? Is there anything we can do to work out our salvation on our own? What do we rely on in order to receive salvation? How can you apply His example in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew

So – in Matthew 6, Christ continues with the Sermon on the Mount. As I studied this chapter, I found that there are six main categories of advice that He gives (both a do and a do not). He teaches us how to give alms, pray, forgive, fast, manage our finances/materialism, remain loyal to God.

This blog post will focus on giving alms.

The Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount

Doing Alms

Do

  • Do them in secret – Your left hand won’t know what your right hand does.

Don’t

  • Don’t sound a trumpet when you do them.
  • Don’t do them before men – to be seen of them.

Why?
This advice, not to do our alms to be seen of men is the first thing mentioned in this chapter. Why does it matter? Isn’t doing good doing good – even if others see?

And, even as I write this, I realize my mistake. Jesus teaches not to do alms before men to be seen of men. This explanation helps us understand what Christ means. Of course, there are times when we will do our alms, and it will be obvious – because it is the nature of that kind of service.

I think of a few years ago, when the tornado hit Joplin. Within days, members of the church were set up, cleaning and serving the people. They were wearing yellow helping hands tee-shirts. They were seen while serving.

The key question is, who is magnified. Yes, they were wearing yellow vests – but not to elevate any single person. Instead, when and if we ever do our alms before men, it isn’t to make ourselves look better – it is to magnify the Lord and build His kingdom. Our actions should be directing people to Christ, not to ourselves. We can learn more about this by studying the Savior’s example.

Doing Alms, Christ, and the Atonement
Christ’s motive for performing the Atonement wasn’t for fame, money, position, or power. It was for us. Christ performed the Atonement so we could overcome the effects of the fall and receive salvation.

In fact, had Christ been looking for the glory of men, I don’t think that He would have been crucified by the Pharisees. If He was looking for acceptance and power, He probably would have united with them.

The performance of the Atonement in the garden of Gethsemane was done completely alone. Christ suffered with only the support of an angel. He didn’t do this in front of anyone. He didn’t suffer the sins of all in the town square, with a trumpet, and demanding attention be placed on Him. Christ suffered, alone, in a garden, while his friends slept.

Though Christ gave the greatest of all alms all alone, He was rewarded openly. He was resurrected and glorified. And thanks to this selfless act, we can all be rewarded with such a reward.

***
What have you learned about giving alms? What does Christ’s example – especially when He performed the Atonement – teach you about service?

The Atonement: The Beatitudes (3/8)

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ This blog post is part of a series of posts that will explore the Atonement by studying Christ’s life in the New Testament. If you want to find the assignments, you can download my eBooks for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John coming soon.)

The Atonement and Your Personal Relationship with Christ – Assignment for Matthew 5

“1. Christ has officially begun His ministry here. His ministry is a part of His purpose, His goals, and is the set up to His eventual Atonement. Keep this in mind as we study His teachings. See if you can find how the Savior’s teachings fit into the Atonement, plan of Salvation, and your life, personally.
2. Each thing Christ has taught in this chapter, He has modeled Himself. He is the Exemplar. You may consider studying some of these qualities and finding instances where Christ exemplifies them. For example: poor in spirit. Find a time when Christ was poor in spirit. How can you follow His behavior in your own life?” – New Testament Study Companion: Matthew

Matthew 5:5
Matthew 5:5

Today, I’m studying the next of the beatitudes…

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Meek

Meekness is a concept that has always been a little bit “foggy” for me to understand. In our society, meekness doesn’t seem to be that great of a quality to have. Yet, Christ, ever counter to conventional customs, tells us that being meek is a blessing.

In the footnotes to Matthew 5:5, we learn the following about meekness: “GR: Gentle, forgiving, or benevolent; the Heb in Psalms 37:11 characterizes as the humble those who have suffered.”

I went ahead and also looked up the scripture in Psalms:

“But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” – Psalms 37:11

I don’t know Hebrew, nor can I read this scripture in Hebrew, but when you read this entire verse in English, I suppose that you could infer something – the lives of the meek are full of suffering and difficulty. However, later, they will inherit the earth and an abundance of peace.

Christ, obviously, is gentle, forgiving, and benevolent. In a way, I also think that meekness implies mindfulness. I suppose that this comes from the concept of Him being “gentle.”
The dictionary definition of Meek is “humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others.”

Christ perfectly models meekness throughout His life. Specifically, while performing the Atonement, He models meekness during His trial after suffering in the Garden and before being crucified. Christ meekly went before Herod.

Think about it – Christ was the literal heir to the throne. Christ should have been King. Christ was of the lineage of David, and had Israel not been under Roman rule, then Christ would have been king. Herod and his family knew that they were not really meant to be rulers of the Jews, but because of their relationship with the Romans, they wielded power. They did a lot to keep this power in their family: they were interested in power, not righteousness.

Yet Christ, ever so meek, didn’t get frustrated that He wasn’t ruling as He ought to have been. Instead, he went before Herod and bore the trial with dignity. We read of this experience in Luke:

“And when herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by Him.”

“Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing.”

“And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him.

“And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate.” – Luke 23:8-11

I have always found this exchange profoundly interesting. First of all, Herod is glad to see Jesus. That seems like a good thing, right? However, we learn why – he wanted to see a miracle done by Christ. It was as if Herod thought Christ was some kind of circus freak or magician. Herod wanted to see Christ the same way some people might want to see David Copperfield or The Great Houdini.

Herod didn’t want to see Christ because he had faith in Him. He didn’t want to learn of Christ or be healed by Christ. Herod wanted to see Christ perform.

The Savior understood this. Though He was meek, He also wasn’t interested in being a circus act. This would be a disgrace to Himself and to His Father. He understood how His power worked and the sacred nature of faith and miracles.

So, when Christ comes to Herod, he meekly submitted to the will of His Father, and He didn’t perform a single miracle for Herod. Neither did He say a single word to Herod or the Priests questioning Him. (This always reminds me of the maxim: If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. – A relatively meek attitude, if you ask me!)

Instead of performing for the King, instead of justifying Himself to the Priests, Christ was meek: like a lamb brought to the slaughter. The difference being Christ knew exactly what would happen to Him – where a sheep is naive to his eventual fate.

Inherit the Earth

So, we have determined that Christ was meek. The promise for such meekness is to “inherit the earth.”

Interestingly enough, that is exactly what happened to Christ. Because Christ performed the Atonement – including being judged and dying at the hands of wicked King Herod and the wicked priests – He overcame death and hell. He was resurrected. He ascended to His Father in Glory. Because of this astounding work He did, Christ inherited the earth.

AND, Christ’s supreme act of meekness enables us to inherit the earth as well. Without Him, we would have no chance at any kind of inheritance.

***
We can learn from Christ’s example and apply it in our own lives. We can meekly and gently accept the trials that we face (according to God’s will, of course). We don’t have to be fake about them, either–Christ had nothing to say to Herod. Meekness isn’t a pretended attitude. Meekness, in the context of Matthew 5, doesn’t mean that we are submissive to everyone who crosses our path. We don’t have to meekly submit to wickedness. Meekness means understanding our relationship with God and then humbly submitting to Him.

And, the really great thing is, God doesn’t expect us to submit completely blindly. For example, Christ knew that He would be judged, He knew He would be killed. He also knew that He would be resurrected. We can trust in God’s will for us – remembering that ultimately, His work is our immortality and eternal life. (See Moses 1:39.)

Finally, can remember that we know the outcome of our decision to be meek: We will inherit the earth! Though meekness may, at times, seem risky; and though meekness may even have a seemingly bad immediate consequence, we need to remember the bigger picture. We need to remember that God blesses the meek – they will inherit the earth.

Not a bad deal!

***
How have you come to understand meekness? What do you do to develop meekness in your life? What does it mean to you to know that the meek will inherit the earth?

The Enabling Power of the Atonement: A Pattern (Mosiah 26:13-14)

I’m still here…I know it has been a while. We have had the back to school rush, then Homey and I went to Hawaii… 🙂

Beautiful!
Beautiful!

So now I’m back, and well…yeah…

Lately, I’ve had a lot on my mind, and most of it has to do with how to be a better disciple. I’ve been going through a growing period. Growing periods aren’t always easy. Sometimes “growing periods” are caused by external adversities and factors (we are all blessed with plenty of these!). Right now, I’m going through a growing period that has been more contemplative and internal, but challenging, nonetheless. I’ve become more aware of my weakness, and truly want to make weak things strong to me.

So, I’ve been studying the Atonement in the Book of Mormon, and it has been enlightening (as usual). Today I was reminded that There is power in the Atonement to enable us to overcome the natural man or woman and become true disciples of Christ.

One thing that I love about the Atonement is its enabling power. As I have become more acquainted with my weaknesses lately, my first instinct is to feel paralyzed by despair. Yet, it is helpful to remember that the Lord knows we are weak. He has given us weakness. The Atonement does more than forgive sins, it also helps weak things to become strong. The Lord, through the power of His Infinite Atonement will not only forgive sin, but He will help us to overcome our weakness.

I love this idea. I mean, I really love it. Heavenly Father isn’t a God who is trying to “prove” us in a way that is arbitrary or mean. He doesn’t leave us here helpless. We simply need to humble ourselves, then he will enable us to be the kind of people that He has commanded us to be. And in the scriptures, we can learn how to apply the Atonement in such a way that it will help us to figure out solutions to the problems in our lives.

In Mosiah we read:

And now the spirit of Alma was again troubled; and he went and inquired of the Lord what he should do concerning this matter, for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God.

And it came to pass that after he had poured out his whole soul to God, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying:” – Mosiah 26:13-14

In this scripture Alma is trying to figure out a problem. For our purposes here, the problem he is trying to solve isn’t all that important. What is important is the pattern that we see unfolding in these two verses.

One – Alma’s Soul Was Troubled

It is important to recognize that this troubled feeling that Alma had was a good thing. It shows that Alma was close enough to the Spirit to realize that there was a problem. Remember, the Spirit will not bear false witness, so when things are awry, we will not feel the comfort or peace that comes with the gift of the Holy Ghost. Instead, the Spirit witnesses of the truth of all things, and the result is…we feel troubled. Sometimes, when I’m feeling troubled I’m inclined to get a little afraid. Instead, I can have faith that my troubled feelings are simply the Spirit urging me to find the right path to take.

Because of the power of the Atonement, we are able to feel the nuanced messages whispered to our souls by the Spirit–even when that message is one of trouble or question. Because Alma had covenanted with the Lord and had implemented the power of the Atonement in his life, he was able to feel troubled and knew that he needed to find an answer to His question.

Two – Alma Pours out His Whole Soul to the Lord

As a result of the troubling feeling that Alma was experiencing and seeking a solution to his problem, Alma went to the Lord. In fact, Alma didn’t just go to the Lord, but he poured out his whole soul. It strikes me that there are times when this is required in order to access the enabling power of the Atonement.

There are times when I have trouble doing this. I believe in prayer. In the past, I have poured out my spirit to the Lord. Yet there are still times when I have trouble pouring out my whole soul not because I lack faith, but because I lack discipline. I tend to get a little lazy and tired. And, I suppose it could be argued that this is also a signal of my lack of faith. I believe that the Lord will answer prayers, and here we see what kind of humility is required in order to find answers and power from God.

Additionally, it strikes me that Alma’s ability to go to the Lord in prayer is available to him solely because of the Atonement of Christ. When we pray, we pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Even when we approach Heavenly Father in prayer, our Savior, through His Atonement, mediates.

Three – The Voice of the Lord Comes

After feeling troubled then supplicating the Lord, the voice of the Lord comes to Alma. His prayer is answered.

We can be assured that Heavenly Father will guide us. He will help us. He will teach us, mold us, and enable us to become the kind of people we want to be. Truly, the Atonement will enable us to reach our divine potentials and be happy.

***
I really love this. In this one example, we see the power of the Atonemnet helping Alma all along the way. Through the power of the Atonement he:

  • was guided by the Spirit to feel troubled and seek an answer to his problem
  • was able to supplicate the Lord by pouring his soul out in prayer
  • was able to hear the voice of the Lord and receive an answer to his problem

***
How have you been able to access and feel the enabling power of the Atonement in your life? How has it helped you to overcome problems?