In the book of Abraham we read, "And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever" (Abrahams 3:24-26).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that before the earth was ever created we lived in heaven as spirit children of God. And, like every father, back then God sought to teach us to become just like Him, which included teaching us what He knows and how to do what He can do. But there were limitations to what we could experience in heaven and so God proposed building an earth where we could learn the further lessons needed to become like Him.
This earth was specifically designed to be a school where we would be taught and trained in the ways of godhood and, like any school, there would also be tests along the way to measure how well we were progressing. There would also be instructors and textbooks provided to teach us the needed lessons as well as homework assignments that would be given, often in the form of on-the-job training, to teach us how to apply the things we learn. And it is by growing in knowledge, wisdom, and skill that we become better prepared to inherit powers that we cannot yet fully comprehend.
But controlling the awesome powers of eternity is not an easy task, therefore, of necessity, the course of instruction offered here on earth is likewise not easy. In fact, our schooling here was deliberately designed to include some very hard lessons that are necessary for us to learn if we ever hope to inherit all that God has.
One of those lessons is how to develop faith, both in God as well as in ourselves. However, faith isn't something we either have or don't have. It manifests itself in many different ways in many different situations and it only grows when it is put to the test. Therefore, one of the purposes of this earth school is to put our faith to the test over and over again.
Even the strongest among us have their faith severely tried. In fact, the more we grow spiritually the greater the tests become that try our faith. The Bible tells us that Abraham was a friend of God and yet God continually put his faith to the test. After promising that his children would be as numerous as the stars, Abraham was kept waiting until he was a hundred years old before he had his first promised child. And then, not many years later God required Abraham to sacrifice that child upon an altar. Even Jesus had to endure trials of His faith, such as in Gethsemane where He pleaded that, if it were possible, he wouldn't have to drink from such a bitter cup. And when He was hanging on the cross, He cried out in wonderment why God, His Father, had left Him.
Temptation is another aspect of our training that each of us have to endure from time to time. Even Jesus Himself was sorely tempted. Therefore, our schooling here is deliberately designed to provide us with many opportunities to learn how to overcome the seductive power of all sorts of temptation, even if we learn that lesson by experiencing the unpleasant consequences that come from giving into it.
Often it's hard for us to really empathize with someone else's problems until we have experienced what they are going through. Therefore, sickness, illness, and death can teach us how to have compassion for the sufferings of others while at the same time teach us patience as our physical, emotional, and spiritual strength is drained.
In addition to these there are other trials, heartaches, disappointments, and problems we face in life. But all of these things are designed to give us experience, which, in turn, gives us knowledge, strength, and wisdom. While no one enjoys going through unpleasant situations, they are nonetheless necessary for our spiritual growth if we ever hope to someday become exalted and sit on thrones to rule with Christ (Revelation 3:21). That is why God has deliberately and specifically created a world where we are to toil by the sweat of our brow and be afflicted with all manner of ills in both body and spirit.
In addition to this there are also certain laws we must learn how to keep. Therefore, we must be taught what those laws are and how to remain steadfast to them. And that is why God established His Church. It is here where we gain instruction in godliness and where we also have the opportunities to practice what we've been taught. Our instructors in God's university are the apostles and prophets and the textbook they teach from is the scriptures. The head schoolmaster or dean of God's earthly university is Jesus Christ.
However, as with all schooling, not everyone puts forth the effort to learn their lessons as much as they should. And this applies even to those who are members of the LDS Church. There are some who are lax in keeping the commandments of God. There are some who are slothful in fulfilling the duties of their callings. There are some who have lived righteously enough to obtain their temple endowments but who then relax their standards in order to live more like the world does. There are also those who call themselves Latter-day Saints who don't have a testimony of its work or who are not valiant in helping to build up God's kingdom.
Many times such people think that because they have not committed any serious transgression such as adultery, robbery, or murder, they will receive the reward of the righteous, which is to become exalted and inherit all that God has. But that is not the case. The Lord has revealed that those who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus Christ will not obtain the crown over the kingdom of God (D&C 76:79). Only those who have learned the lessons of godhood and who have passed the test of godliness will graduate with the highest degree of honor in the resurrection. Those who have failed to apply themselves and have not put forth the effort needed to qualify for godhood will receive a lesser reward for their labors.
However, most members of the LDS Church do diligently strive to keep the commandments God has given us. Such commandments include not only reading the scriptures every day but to study and ponder them as well. We are also commanded not only to have personal prayers both morning and evening but to hold family prayer at least twice a day. Every Monday night we are expected to have Family Home Evening whether we have children at home or not. But for this to be successful requires spending time during the week carefully planning and preparing for Monday night's lesson. The Church also counsels husbands and wives to spend quality time with each other as well as spending quality time with their children as a whole and as individuals.
The Church tells us we are to keep a daily personal journal. It tells us that we are expected to spend time doing genealogy work in making an accurate family tree, which requires verifying each fact from at least two different sources. We are counseled to go to the temple as frequently as time and distance permits. We have been counseled to stock up a two year supply of food, spend time doing missionary work with our friends and neighbors as well as going out with the missionaries, do quality home/visiting teaching with those families we've been assigned to care for, and participate in service projects as well as fulfill assignments in keeping our church buildings clean.
Each member of the Church is given a calling which they are expected to fulfill with faithfulness. They are also expected to attend church each Sunday, which requires being there for three hours. But, they are further expected to refrain from all worldly work throughout the entire day on Sunday. They are also expected to attend other meetings, of which there are many, both on a ward/branch level and on a stake level.
As can be seen, the Church expects a lot of its members and not all of them are able to live up to this high standard of behavior, even when they have a desire to do so. And it is times like that when some members of the Church become discouraged or even depressed because they feel they aren't measuring up to what God expects of them. As a result they feel like failures and either just give up trying to live the commandments or, worse yet, become increasingly frustrated and wear themselves out physically and spiritually trying to fulfill all that's expected of them, while feeling guilty because they just can't seem to do it all. In both of these cases, what many times happens is that such people convince themselves that they just don't have what it takes to become like God.
However, nothing could be further from the truth because God has not designed us to fail. God's plan allows all who want to receive the highest degree of heaven to achieve it. The problem isn't with God's plan for us but with our understanding of that plan.
Whenever anyone goes to any kind of schooling their learning progresses in small, incremental steps. For example, in math, students start out in the first grade learning how to recognize numbers and then how they are arranged in sequence. Next, in second grade students are taught how to add simple numbers. After that they are taught how to do subtraction, then, in time, multiplication, and then division. Next comes fractions, then learning about the decimal system and negative numbers. After all of this the student is now ready to learn pre-algebra, which prepares them for algebra itself. Once that has been mastered then they are ready to learn geometry, followed by trigonometry, which prepares them for pre-calculus, followed by calculus. By the time someone has reached this level of mathematical skill they have spent thirteen or more years of study and practice. If we were to teach calculus to a fifth grader, the child's ability to grasp even the concept of it, let alone being able to do it, would be zero and would guarantee their failure.
And the same principle applies to becoming Christ-like. We don't learn how to become perfect in one or two years. In fact, our progression towards perfection didn't start when we were born into mortality and it won't end when we put our bodies in the grave. Our life on earth is just one step in a very long process of becoming like Christ. Since no two people learn at the same rate, it is obvious that some people will take longer to learn than others. But in God's University time is not a major factor because we have all of eternity to gain the knowledge and skills needed to become exalted beings.
The reason why some people become frustrated and discouraged in the gospel is because they try to become perfect faster than they are capable of doing. When they try to run before they've learned how to walk they are guaranteeing their failure, which, in turn, makes them feel as though they're being asked to do the impossible. And once that thought begins to take root in a person's mind they begin to stop trying to do what is asked of them.
There are those who can seemingly do everything, but they didn't start out in life that way. For example, the president of the LDS Church is responsible for overseeing every aspect of the Church, from missionary work, to temple work, to welfare and humanitarian aid, to church building construction, including temples, to reorganizing stakes and wards, to training new stake, mission, and temple presidents, providing and printing lesson material in many different languages, to insuring that correct doctrine is being taught, and much, much more.
To do all of that takes tremendous administrative skills, but the president of the Church wasn't born with that ability. He gained it a little at a time as he accepted and faithfully served in a multitude of different callings. Most Presidents of the Church have been bishops and many have been stake presidents and General Authorities before being called as an apostle. And each of these callings has taught and trained them how to be a capable administrator.
Even as an apostle, each future president has been taught, trained, guided, and, directed by older apostles as well as from the presidents of the Church whom they served under. Many of them have served as counselors in the First Presidency and have learned first hand what it takes to preside over the entire church. By the time they assume the Presidency they have had over sixty years of experience that has prepared them for that calling. And during those sixty years they have made a lot of mistakes that have taught them valuable lessons.
This is no different than what each individual member of the Church goes through. None of us are born perfect. We learn and grow to become that way a little at a time. Each experience we have, whether good or bad, teaches us valuable lessons that can help us become a little smarter, a little wiser, and a little better if we are willing to learn from them. Just because we can't do something now doesn't mean we will never be able to do it in the future. When we find ourselves unable to do certain things, all it means is that this is an area where we need to gain more knowledge and apply more practice.
Some people condemn themselves for not doing all that God expects of them and tend to think that God is therefore angry at them. While that may be how they view themselves, that is not how God views us. He wants us to grow and the key to growth is to practice continually at that which we want to improve. And as we do that, invariably we find ourselves becoming better and better at doing whatever it is we're working at. And as we gain one skill after another we will find, over time, that we are able to do more and more things that we once though were impossible.
However, success often times comes only after repeated unsuccessful attempts, while failure comes every time we stop trying to succeed. Therefore, the key to success is to always keep trying. When we condemn ourselves because we lack the knowledge or skill of how to do certain things, rather than continually seeking to improve ourselves, we are engaging in behavior that is actually counter-productive to our spiritual growth.
But, just working hard at something doesn't always guarantee success. Sometimes we need to learn how to work smarter rather than harder. Scripture study is a good illustration of this. Some people may have a sincere desire to read their scriptures every day but before long they find themselves being sidetracked by so many other activities that no matter how hard they try there just doesn't seem to be any time left at the end of the day to fit scripture reading into their schedule. The problem isn't so much that they're too busy as it is that they haven't learned how to wisely budget their time. And learning how to set priorities and organizing our time is a skill. If that is a skill we're lacking then that's an area where we need to gain knowledge about and grow in.
However, there is an inherent problem with taking this kind of an approach to life's schooling. If we are not careful we can too easily convince ourselves that it's okay not to do all that God expects of us. After all, if we have all eternity to learn then it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking there's no hurry to improve ourselves. When that happens we find ourselves working far below our abilities, which also limits our growth. Since none of us know how long we will live in mortality, the more time we waste in this life the less opportunity we have to learn the lessons that can only be taught here. Therefore, it becomes important for our spiritual development to find the proper balance between trying to do too much too soon and not trying to do enough when we can and should be doing more.
The key to avoiding this problem is to realize that no matter how good or poor our abilities are we can always do better. That means we should continually be looking for ways to improve ourselves. But rather than trying to do everything all at once we need to keep in mind that growth comes only a little at a time. If we try to bite off more than we can chew, we only end up choking on our food rather than being nourished by it. Condemning ourselves for not doing enough when we're can't handle what we're already doing is like condemning someone for not taking a larger bite of food when they're already choking on what's in their mouth. But not doing as much as we're capable of is like not eating today because we ate yesterday. When that happens we end up starving ourselves rather than satisfying our hunger. Just like we eat our food a little at a time until we are full, so also we improve ourselves a little at a time until we become perfect.
The reason we came here to earth is not because we were forced to live in mortality but because we hungered to learn the lessons that earth life has to offer us. We volunteered to participate in this schooling much like we voluntarily choose which college we want to attend. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the earthly campus of God's University and it is by studying hard and doing our homework that will help us graduate with the highest degree of exaltation. But overworking ourselves can be just as defeating as not doing enough. Therefore, it's important that we learn how to make wise use our time here on earth.
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