Posted by: Ascentury | Thursday, 30 April 2009

Three strands.

A friend lamented recently the difficulty of teaching the principle of consecration in the LDS CES Institute course “Teachings of the Living Prophets” since the passing of Elder Maxwell. It seems help is at hand. In the most recent General Conference, Elders Eyring, Uchtdorf, and Oaks each offer deep counsel about the “wintry doctrine” of consecration, although the word was mentioned only by Elder Oaks.

The talks which I reference are:

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “We Are Doing a Great Work and Cannot Come Down”
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Way of the Disciple”
Dallin H. Oaks, “Unselfish Service”
Henry B. Eyring, “‘Man Down!'”

Each of these men discusses a separate strand of consecration. President Uchtdorf focuses on the element of discipline inherent in discipleship. He explains that,

Sometimes the things that distract us are not bad, in and of themselves; often they even make us feel good.

It is possible to take even good things to excess. One example can be seen in a father or grandfather who spends hours upon hours searching for his ancestors or creating a blog while neglecting or avoiding quality or meaningful time with his own children and grandchildren. Another example could be a gardener who spends his days pulling weeds from the soil while ignoring the spiritual weeds that threaten to choke his soul.

Even some programs of the Church can become a distraction if we take them to extremes and allow them to dominate our time and our attention at the expense of things that matter most. We need balance in life.

In short, rather than face the horrors of existence, we opt for solitaire and self-absorption. What is this “balance in life,” ultimately? Two answers are at hand, woven thickly together in his talks:

When we truly love our Heavenly Father and His children, we demonstrate that love through our actions. We forgive one another and seek to do good, for “our old [self] is crucified with [Christ].” We “visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction,” and we keep ourselves “unspotted from the vices of the world.
—Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “We Are Doing a Great Work and Cannot Come Down”

Let us be humble; let us pray to our Father in Heaven with all our heart and express our desire to draw close to Him and learn of Him.

Have faith. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. Serve the Lord by serving others. Become an active participant in your ward or branch. Strengthen your family by committing to live the principles of the gospel. Be of one heart and of one mind in your marriage and in your family.
—Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Way of the Disciple”

We are not to fall into distraction or “forbidden paths”, but to expend our time and effort in disciplined discipleship.

In one of the more unsettling talks of recent years, Elder Oaks emphasizes the exigent nature of consecration and losing one’s self (for more on this, David Knowlton‘s see Elder Oaks’ Leaves of Grass: “Not a Song of Myself”).

Elder Oaks begins by stating the plain requirement of gospel service:

All [service] requires setting aside personal convenience for unselfish service. All of it stands in contrast to the fame, fortune, and other immediate gratification that are the worldly ways of so many in our day.

Latter-day Saints are uniquely committed to sacrifice. In partaking of the sacrament each week, we witness our commitment to serve the Lord and our fellowmen. In sacred temple ceremonies we covenant to sacrifice and consecrate our time and talents for the welfare of others.

He proceeds to demonstrate the nature of our peculiar covenant commitment.

C. S. Lewis explained this teaching of the Savior: “The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the centre—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. Some people think the fall of man had something to do with sex, but that is a mistake. . . . What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come . . . the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

A selfish person is more interested in pleasing man—especially himself—than in pleasing God. He looks only to his own needs and desires. He walks “in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world” (D&C 1:16). Such a person becomes disconnected from the covenant promises of God (see D&C 1:15) and from the mortal friendship and assistance we all need in these tumultuous times. In contrast, if we love and serve one another as the Savior taught, we remain connected to our covenants and to our associates.

What Elder Oaks seems to be advocating here is not merely losing one’s self, but obliterating it—immersing and annihilating the natural man. Actually, the word that comes continually to mind is an old term used for fiery sacrifice—immolation.

Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.
John 12:24-25

Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.
1 Corinthians 15:36

Elder Oaks closes by gently reminding us that, “we are happier and more fulfilled when we act and serve for what we give, not for what we get”—wonderfully reminiscent of the attitudes lived so well by Spencer W. Kimball, Henry Eyring, Sr., and others.

Elder Eyring discusses the urgent, desperate nature of the responsibility one has as a member of the true church, having taken upon oneself the name of Jesus Christ:

You may have been the only one to sense by inspiration the warning cry. … Others may feel, as you will be tempted to think, “Maybe the trouble I thought I saw is just my imagination. What right do I have to judge another? It’s not my responsibility. I’ll leave it alone until he asks for help.”

… You are under covenant to go to a spiritually wounded child of God. You are responsible to be brave enough and bold enough not to turn away.

… You are under covenant, as has been made clear to you, that when you accepted the trust from God to receive the priesthood, you accepted a responsibility for whatever you might do or fail to do for the salvation of others however difficult and dangerous that might appear to be for you.

… As Jacob believed, the woe of any fallen man or woman he could have helped and did not would become his own sorrow. Your happiness and that of those you are called to serve as a priesthood holder are bound together.

Finally, the messages of consecration end with a beautiful admonition to fulfill our temple covenant:

Think for a moment what could be accomplished in our personal lives, in our professional lives, in our families, in our wards and branches. Think of how the kingdom of God would progress throughout the earth. Imagine how the world itself could be transformed for good if every man who bears the priesthood of God were to gird up his loins and live up to his true potential, converted in the depth of his soul, a true and faithful priesthood man, committed to building the kingdom of God.
—Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “We Are Doing a Great Work and Cannot Come Down”

What will be the consequence when we take seriously the admonition of President Eyring (and, indeed, every prophet since the world began) that we “[feel] responsible for the eternal happiness of strangers in danger of eternal misery”?

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