In Proverbs 8:17-18 we read, "I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me. Riches and honor are with me; yea durable riches and righteousness."
If most people were asked if they would like to make more money, have greater happiness in life, and get along better with others, whether that be their spouse, children, friends or coworkers, their answer would most likely be, "Yes." If most Latter-day Saints were asked if they would like to have greater faith, increased spirituality, and more success in overcoming their human weakness, there is no doubt they would give the same response.
While we've all noticed people who seem to live a Spirit filled life, for the great majority of us who come to church every Sunday and serve faithfully in our callings, our lives don't seem to have reached the level of spirituality we desire despite all of our best intentioned efforts. That then raises the question of how come that is and how do we succeed at doing that?
There is a formula for success that will work with anything, whether it concerns monetary, emotional, physical, or spiritual matters. To become successful in any of these areas there is a simple three-step process we must follow.
The Lord revealed the first step in Proverbs 8:17 when He said, "I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me." Although on the surface that sounds like a fairly simple and obvious statement, when we take a closer look at what the Lord said we find there's more to this statement than first meets the eye, therefore, let's take a closer look at this verse.
Since we know that God loves His children even when we sin, and, because of His great love for all of us He sent His only Begotten Son to die for our sins, why does God say He loves only those who love Him? Shouldn't He love all of us unconditionally even though we may not always love Him? And then there is the another closely related question of how does God know if we truly do love Him or not?
The answer to the first question becomes more understandable when we understand the answer to the second question. The way God knows how much we love Him is by the kind of choices we choose to make in our life. To illustrate this principle, let's use an analogy. The purpose of our kidneys is to remove impurities found in our blood but when the kidneys stop functioning, toxic waste and fluids build up in the body. Unless these impurities are cleansed from the blood, a person can die within a matter of weeks. Today, people with severe kidney disorders are put on hemodialysis, which is a machine that acts like an artificial kidney. Usually the patient must go three times a week for the rest of their life to a treatment center where the dialysis machine is located and spend from three to five hours each visit having their blood recirculated and cleaned. If they fail to do this on a regular basis then their health quickly deteriorates and the risk of death dramatically increases.
Imagine someone on dialysis being offered the opportunity to spend a fun filled week on a cruise ship. As much as they might want to do that, if such a trip meant that they had to forego their dialysis treatment then they are faced with making a choice between having fun in the short term or maintaining their health in the long run. To most people such a choice would be simple to make. No amount of fun is worth ruining their health.
In much the same way, our spiritual life has become filled with toxins and sinful waste because of the unholy things we do but because of Christ's atonement, God's Spirit can cleanse us of all our unrighteous impurities. However for that cleansing process to take place we have to be hooked up to His power. Unfortunately, because we don't always see or feel the eternal consequesnces of our behavior, we have a tendency to choose to do the "fun" things in life, thinking there is no harm in doing so and fail to do those things that will cleanse us of our impurities and make it possible for us to live eternally. Therefore, all God has to do is look as the choices we make in life to determine what is most important to us - God or the things of the world.
A man who is wandering lost in the desert thinks only of water. As such, thoughts of accumulating material wealth and status become irrelvant to what he now thinks is truly important to him. Nephi had a dream where he found himself walking in a dark and dreary wilderness (1 Nephi 8:4) and that accurately reflects our situation here in mortality. When God sees that our desire is to seek Him early in an effort to drink from the fountain of living water that He provides then He knows that we truly do love Him.
The Amplified Bible gives us a much richer translation of Proverbs 8:17. It renders it as "I love those who love me and those who seek me and diligently shall find me." Other scriptures bear this out when it tells us "He that diligently seeketh good procureth favour: but he that seeketh mischief, it shall come unto him" (Prov. 11:27). "for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6).
God doesn't merely want us to seek after Him, He wants us to be diligent about it. That implies God expects us to put forth great effort to seek after Him. The Lord said "And ye shall seek me, and find me when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). If God expects us to search for Him with all of our heart, then that seems to imply He's hidden Himself from us. But why would He do that? Even more puzzling is that He must be so well hidden that we must "diligently" search with all of our heart in order to find Him.
But if Jesus loves us and wants to save us, why is He hiding Himself from us? The answer is because He wants to make sure we love Him so much that we are willing to give up all that we have to find Him. That is why God rewards only those who diligently seek Him. But what usually happens too many times is that we reverse this part of the formula. As humans, people have a tendency to seek for God's rewards first without diligiently seeking to find Him and then wonder why God isn't rewarding their efforts. If we chase after blessings they will flee from us, but if we chase after God then His blessings will be freely given to us. As someone once put it, we need to seek for God's presence instead of seeking for God's presents.
We've all heard the old saying, "Don't put the cart before the horse." The cart is what carries our belongings, but no matter how powerful a horse may be, if we haven't hitched him to the front of our wagon then all of that power does us no good and our cart goes nowhere. If we want our life to go somewhere, then we need to hitch our cart (that is, our life) to Christ. If Christ isn't out there in front of us, leading us by His power, then He isn't foremost in our life. In that case we've either put Him off to the side, or have put Him behind us and are going our own way. When we hitch our life to God, we have access to His infinite and tremendous power and He will take us to His blessings where our cart will be full of all the good things He has in store for those who love Him. Therefore, even though God loves all of His children, He blesses those who seek Him diligently and He rewards them according to their love for Him.
Moses gave us the second step in this formula for success when he said, "Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee" (Exodus 33:13).
Today a person can go into any bookstore and find what they call "self-help" books on almost any subject. If you want to learn how to become a successful salesman, a successful manager, to be successful in the stock market, in business, in your family life, in your love life, or at anything else, you can find a number of books that will give you all the advice you need. In addition to these, there are those who conduct seminars where they personally instruct and teach people how to succeed at a particular endeavor. For example, if you are having trouble in your marriage, you can have a personal seminar with a professionally trained therapist.
But seminars usually cost a considerable amount of money. For example, depending on what part of the country you live in, the cost of attending a marriage counseling session can be around $100 per hour. Dale Carnegie wrote a book entitled "How to Win Friends and Influence People," but his organization also puts on seminars for people in business that teaches their employees how to apply the principles written about in his book. Whereas the book costs about $25.00, the seminars can cost several hundreds of dollars.
God is not only willing to teach us all that He knows for free, but, more importantly, He knows more than all the professional teachers put together. And the textbook He uses for His course, known as the scriptures, can be easily and cheaply acquired. If we want to know how to become successful in business, in politics, in our families, in our personal and social life, as well as in our spiritual life, all we have to do is read God's book and attend His seminars.
However, on any given subject, writers of books and speakers at seminars often teach their own pet theory on how to become successful. For example, on the subject of weight loss, there are hundreds of books explaining different ways for people to become thin and healthy. One particular system, advocated by a man named Dr. Adkins, had become so popular that it's been called the Adkins revolution. What we see then is that each book writer has their own formula for success and the same is true of God. He has His own unique system and has written a book about it. More than that, He gives weekly seminars where He teaches His method for self-improvement. Since God's ways are far superior to that of man's, it makes sense for us to learn His method by reading His book and attending His seminars.
In relation to this principle the scriptures tell us that if we "draw night unto God he will draw nigh to you" (James 4:8). Upon first reflection that seems to suggest that God is somewhere over there and we are over here and that's where we both stay until we decide to move towards Him. And it is at that point when God decides to meet us half way. But the fallacy with this idea is that it suggests God is compromising with us. Since we've over here in sin and God is over there in total righteousness, God is not going to change His position and move toward sin even if we move from sin toward righteousness. It's not God's intention to help us become half-righteous but to become completely holy. Therefore, all the movement has to be on our part.
Perhaps we can better understand this principle by way of an illustration. Suppose we want to go skiing on Bear mountain. In order to do that we must go the full distance to the mountain because the mountain isn't going to come to us. But, as we draw closer to the mountain, it is nonetheless getting closer, meaning that the distance between the mountain and us is getting shorter even though we're the one who is doing all the moving.
In order for us to learn of God's ways, we have to go to where He is. Since God doesn't conduct His seminars at the ball game, or on the golf course, or at the fishing stream that means we have to find where He is teaching and go to where He is. That's no different than a seminar being held downtown in the largest city nearest where we live. In order to learn what is being taught at that seminar we have to go all the way to the location where that meeting is being held.
The place where God usually conducts His seminars is at church. Therefore, the reason we go to church is to be instructed in God's ways. If we want to sleep in on Sundays, or go do something that's more fun, that's our decision, but we need to realize we're missing out on God's seminars.
That then leads us to the third and final step for success. Imagine someone going to a seminar, spending hundreds of dollars to enroll in it, taking the time to attend the lectures, making prodigious notes on everything the speaker says, buying the numerous books being offered, then going home and not following what they've been taught. The fact that someone attended a seminar doesn't mean they will become a success. In fact, just the opposite is true. It will guarantee they will continue to be a failure unless they put into practice the things they were taught.
If someone wants to make $300,000 a year, there is something they have to do to make that happen. No one is going to pay someone that much money for sitting around doing nothing, or next to nothing. To make a six figure income requires putting forth a significant amount of work, sweat, and time. The scriptures refer to this as the law of the harvest. It's no different than if someone had a little patch of garden in their backyard where they planted a few tomatoes, a few green beans, and a few beets. When harvest time comes all they're going to get is a few tomatoes, a few green beans, and a few beets. But if they plant enough seed to cover an acre of ground, their harvest will be many times greater than what they would get out of a small backyard garden. However, at the same time, it will require that they put forth a lot more effort, therefore, the amount of time, effort, and resources we put into something, the greater our reward will be.
And this same principle applies to reaping God's blessings. We can't expect to put forth a little bit of effort and have an abundant harvest of blessings. If we want to reap the fruits of the Spirit then we have to be faithful and diligent in planting the seeds and then following the pattern for success that God has given us.
Some people have a tendency to think of blessings as somehting God passes out as treats for good behavior but, in most cases that's not true. The scriptures are replete with the admonishment for us to "walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments" (Deut. 30:16). The reason why God gives us commandments is that they are the rules by which He is able to live as He does. When we follow His commandments we are following God's perfect system for achieving spiritual growth and perfection.
A number of years ago there was a movie called The Karate Kid which told the story of a teenage boy who wanted to learn Judo so he could fight the school bully who happened to be a Judo champ. During a conversation with the elderly caretaker at the apartments where this boy lived, the man agreed to teach the boy how to defend himself. On the appointed day of his first lesson, the man told the boy to wax his car, but he was to do it in a specific manner. With his right hand he was to put the wax on using a circular motion and with his left hand he was to rub the wax off using the opposite circular motion. When the boy protested, saying he wanted to learn Judo, the man said that would come in time, but for now he was to rub the wax on and rub the wax off in the manner explained to him.
What the elderly man was doing, as we find out later in the story, was developing in this boy the hand movements he would later use when defending himself. And it was from the constant repetition of waxing the car in this manner that these hand movements eventually became a reflexive habit. When it came time for the boy to fight, he didn't have to think about how to move his hands. They moved instinctively from the routine of practice. The elderly man did not explain this to the boy at first, but in time the boy came to understand the importance of doing what the old man had told him.
This same principle is true with following God's commandments. He often doesn't tell us why we need to do as He says, but it is by following His instructions, even if we may not see or understand the reasons for them, that we begin to form a habit of spiritual living. The scriptures tell us, "But now put away and rid yourselves completely of all these things: anger, rage, bad feelings toward others, curses and slander, and foulmouthed abuse, and shameful utterances from your lips" (Colossians 3:8, Amplified Bible). We all know how the destructive effects of anger can destroy relationships, cause physical stress that can result in medical problems, and can tarnish a person's good reputation. It becomes clear then that when we follow Paul's counsel we will experience the blessings of closer relationships, improved health, and a better reputation.
While these are the obvious fruits that come from keeping this commandment, there is more that happens within us that is not so easily seen, things that are of a spiritual nature. With a change in our actions comes a change in our attitude. With a change in our attitude comes a change in our character, which is another word for our nature. Since man, by nature, is a sinful creature and God, by nature, is a holy being, as we keep the commandments of God our nature begins to change from being sinful to being holy. And it is in this way that we begin to grow into the likeness of God's Son, Jesus Christ.
But the scriptures aren't the only place where we can discover these principles of good living. There are many books on human psychology that teach these same values, sometimes even more clearly than the Bible. If that is so, then why do we need God in order to enjoy the blessings of living a righteous life? In other words, if there is a natural cause between good works and good behavior, then does it matter whose system we follow as long as it produces the same results? If all we're interested in is achieving earthly blessings then it doesn't matter who we listen to but if we want the blessings of heaven then the only way to get them is by following the formula set forth by heaven.
For example, Jesus said, "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've been admonished to read the scriptures every day but if we want to have eternal life then we must read God's word according to the formula for success that God has taught, and that formula is to read the scriptures with the intent of coming to know the only true God and His Son, Jesus Christ. In this way we come to know God's character, His laws, His purposes, and His ways. Then, once we have gained that knowledge we are better equipped to develop the desire to become a little more like Him. But if we're not reading the scriptures according to the formula God has taught then we can't expect to become successful at gaining eternal life.
The Psalmist wrote, "Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths" (Psalms 25:4). The reason we go to church is to learn of God's ways and to be taught how to walk in His paths. If that is not our purpose in going to church each Sunday then we can't expect to be successful in our spiritual growth. When someone tells themselves they can learn what they need to know about God at home ratther than going to church then they are following their our own system for becoming spiritually successful rather than following the pattern God has established. While they may achieve some success following their own formula they will never have the the kind of success that comes from following that set by God.
If we want to have a greater sense of peace and contentment in our life, increase our spirituality and develop a stronger faith in God, there's an easy process to receiving all of these blessings:
1). Love God with all of our heart and diligently seek after Him,
2). Learn of His ways, and
3). Obey what He tells us to do.
This is the formula for achieving genuine success.
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