The apostle James wrote "For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away" (James 4:14).
To many people our life here on earth seems like such a long time. Because of this, they often view this life as the sole reason for our being alive and the very purpose of our existence. From the time we are born we are taught how to be prosperous and successful in life and to get the most out of it. Therefore, we try to enjoy all it has to offer before we die and have to sadly leave its pleasures behind. Yet, even if we live to be a hundred years old, our life seems to end much too quickly. And when a love one dies, the living mourn their passing, often complaining how death has robbed the deceased of their ability to enjoy the things of this world.
However, the truth of the matter is that our life here on earth is not meant to be our destination. Instead it is only a journey we take on the way to our ultimate goal. The scriptures tell us, "And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead." (Alma 12:24).
Perhaps we can illustrate this principle by way of an example. Assume we were at home and one day decided that we wanted to spend the up-coming Saturday having fun at a near-by state park. On the designated day we get in our car and head for our destination. Although we have never been to this park before, and have no idea how long or short the journey will be, yet we know which road will take us directly to it.
On our way to the park someone might ask, "What are we going to do once we get there?" Our first thought might be to have a picnic. But, in order to do that, we would need food to eat. Therefore, we could stop at a grocery store along the way and pick up some hot dogs, buns, potato chips, and drinks before resuming our journey. Once on the road again someone could point out that in order to cook the hot dogs we will need charcoal, lighter fluid, and matches. Therefore, we would stop at another store to pick up those items.
Then another person might ask, "What are we going to do besides having a picnic?" In order to go swimming in the lake we would need to stop at another store and pick up swimming gear and other related water fun items. In order to go fishing we would need to stop at a different store and pick up fishing rods, bait, and tackle. If we decided to play various sporting games we would need to stop at still a different store to pick up a Frisbee or a volleyball and net, or some other kind of outdoor activity. If we wanted to go hiking, we would have to stop at yet another store to purchase boots, back packs, water containers, and perhaps some bug repellant.
The reason for doing all of this shopping is so that when we reach our destination we will have everything necessary for us to spend the rest of the day having fun and enjoying ourselves. If we didn't pick up the things we needed to have fun at the park, when we arrived there we would have brought nothing with which to make the rest of our day worthwhile.
In this example. let's say that our journey to the park took thirty minutes and we arrived there at ten in the morning and stayed until ten at night. To a child, a thirty-minute car ride might seem like a long time, with them complaining every couple of minutes, "Are we there yet?" But when compared to the rest of the day, thirty minutes out of twelve hours is really an extremely short period of time.
Now imagine that, instead of stopping at each of these stores to purchase the things necessary for our day at the park, we decided to stop along the road and pick some flowers, or merely entertained ourselves singing songs in the car during our thirty-minute journey. Although doing these things are also fun, yet, when we arrive at the park, such activities will have done nothing to help us enjoy the rest of our day. Even though flowers are pretty, they can't feed us when we become hungry. Singing songs are fine for occupying our time while confined inside a car, but they've not near as much fun as swimming, fishing, or hiking, especially when we have to occupy ourselves for twelve hours.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that we once lived in a celestial home with our heavenly Father. Furthermore, we believe there came a time when He presented us with a plan whereby we could become like Him. When we heard the news, we shouted for joy (Job 38:7) and eagerly looked forward to the journey which would take us to that goal. Part of the road which leads to eternal life takes us through mortal life on earth. Yet mortality is not our final destination. It is only one part of the road that we must travel in order to reach our ultimate objective.
From the moment each us of are born on earth, we all head toward the same destination. No matter who we are, where we live, or what we do with our life, every single person will ultimately end up at death's door. When we reach that point, our life here on earth will be over, and a new life will immediately begin for us in a different environment. However, none of us knows how long or short our journey through mortality will be. It may be two years or ninety-two years, but no matter how much time we spend on earth, it is a mere faction of the time we will spend in the next world. Like children traveling in a car, it may seem like a long time before death ushers us into the spirit world, but compared to eternity, our time on earth is more like a vapor of steam.
According to what the prophets have told us, there are two places we can go when we die - either Paradise or the Spirit Prison. Paradise is a place of rest. It is a place of beauty and love. It is the place where all of us hope to inherit when this life is over. But, when we get there, will we be prepared to enjoy our time, or will we arrive with nothing to make our stay worthwhile? That all depends on how well we have prepared ourselves by the things we have picked up along our journey through life.
The most important question we should ask ourselves is, "What do I need so that I might enjoy myself when I enter into the Lord's rest?" Jesus counseled us to "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures' in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Matthew 6:19,20). If that is so, then what kind of treasure do we need to lay up? Obviously, it must be something that we can take with us to the next world. That automatically eliminates anything of a worldly nature such as money, material possession, the praises of men, or earthly power.
That doesn't mean we can't enjoy these things as we pass through mortality, just as long as we don't neglect treasuring up those things that we will need for our next life. Since this life is merely a short journey which we take to go between our celestial home and our heavenly reward, we need to focus more of our attention on acquiring the things that will matter most to us in a few short years rather than spending our time doing things that matter least and leave us unprepared to enjoy what God has prepared for us. Just like picking flowers by the road or singing songs in a car, the things of the earthly world don't do us much good when we get to the spiritual world.
The Lord explained what it is we need to acquire in order to enjoy the next life. He taught, "Fear not to do good, my sons, for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward" (D&C 6:33). Since we will be rewarded according to our works (Matthew 16:27, Revelation 22:12), it is the things which we do in this life that will determine what kind of reward we will have waiting for us in the next life. It is the seeds we sow in this life that we will harvest and live off of in the next life. If we do that which is good in this world, we will have good waiting for us in the next world.
But exactly what kind of "good" should we be doing? Jesus answered this question when he taught, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans [do] the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans [do] so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:43-48).
When Jesus commanded us to be perfect just as our Father in heaven is, He made that comment in connection with the way we treat people. The greatest of all commandments is to love God and our neighbor (Mat. 23:37-40). It is the attitude of being patient, tolerant and forgiving towards others, whether they are our friends or enemies that brings us closer to being like Christ. It is showing mercy and being a peacemaker that makes us blessed (Mat 5:7,9). It is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the sick that helps us inherit the kingdom of God (Mat. 25:34-40). In other words it is how we treat others that matters most.
The Lord further taught, "But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matthew 23:11,12). Everyone likes to think of themselves as being humble, and very few people will admit to being proud or arrogant, no matter how boastful or adamant in their belief they may be. Yet the true test of humility lies in being a servant to others. It's extremely hard for someone to exalt themselves when they voluntarily cater to the needs of others.
Therefore, since Jesus declared that the key to becoming exalted is by becoming a servant of God, here are some examples of service that we may not always think of.
We are taught that fathers are to preside in the home. To some, the word "preside" means to rule over and dictate what family members are to do. However, this is not what the scriptures teach. A father is responsible for both the temporal and spiritual welfare of their wife and children. Fathers are commanded to train up their children in the way they should walk (Proverbs 22:6), to bring up their children in the nurture and admonish of the Lord (Enos 1:1) and teach them to walk uprightly before the lord (D&C 68:28). It is the husband's responsibility to help his wife become spiritually strong and righteous, because without her there is no exaltation for him. As such, he is responsible for the salvation of all those within his family. On the last day he will have to give an account of how he helped God bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of each member of his family whom the Lord entrusted into his care for that very purpose. Thus, when a man "presides" in his home it should more properly be understood as serving the needs of those who are dependant upon him for their spiritual welfare. This is what Jesus does for us as He presides over His Church.
At the same time the Lord has also commanded wives to submit themselves to their husbands even as they would submit themselves to Christ (Ephesians 5:22, 1 Colossians 3:18). To submit oneself to the wishes of another is to become a servant. However, in today's society where equality between men and women is the prevailing attitude, the concept that a wife is to be a servant to her husband is considered demeaning to women and arrogant of men. Recently, when one of the world's leading Christian denominations affirmed the biblical injunction that a wife was to be in subjection to her husband, there was strong opposition among many of its members to this announcement.
Yet, the Bible specifically states that in the very beginning, women were created to be a helper to their husband (Genesis 2:18), and a helper, by definition, is a servant. When a woman balks at being a servant to her husband, she is not only being disdainful of him but is also dispaying an attitude of pride and arrogance where one exalts themselves above another. It was Jesus who taught, "whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matthew 23:12).
Similarly, God has also commanded children to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1, Colossians 3:20). Perhaps the most used word by children when asked to do something is "No!" As they grow into their teenage years and begin to feel the natural yearnings for independence, their defiance to authority, both in and out of the home, begins to assert itself with increasing strength. However, even though Jesus Christ was God, yet He was always obedient to His Father. He constantly proclaimed that He came, not to do His own will, but the will of Him who sent Him (John 5:30, 6:38 ). If anyone had a right to assert their own independence and follow their own desires, it was God's Son. Yet, if He obeyed His Father in all things, there can be no justification for mortal children to disobey their parents.
The Lord has further commanded all men to honor their father and their mother (Exodus 20:12). To honor someone means to show them respect and treat them with kindly affection. This can still be done even though we may not always agree with them. Not all parents are good and wonderful, and, unfortunately, some are extremely unrighteous. However, God did not attach any conditions when issuing His command to honor our parents. It is a simple, clear and unambiguous declaration that is universal in its scope and one which has never been altered or revoked.
The reason for this is because eternal life is only possible by going through earthly life. If we were never born into mortality, we could never achieve immortality. Whether a parent is good or bad, righteous or evil, if it hadn't been for them bringing us into this world, we would never have the opportunity to inherit the kingdom of God. That is a debt of gratitude we will forever owe them. For that reason alone, we should honor them. Yet,. for those parents who have spent their time teaching us, caring for us, worrying about us, and being there for us, that debt of gratitude which we should have towards them is second only to the debt of gratitude we owe Jesus Christ for His atoning sacrifice for our sins.
These kinds of service are acts of love. The apostle Paul taught, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (i.e. love for others), I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). It is scripturally reasonable to assume that when we stand before the Lord at the end of our journey, one of the important questions He might very well ask us will be, "What have you done for my children?" It is the deeds of kindness and the works of unselfish love in the service of others that will bring us the greatest rewards in the life to come. Without lthat kind of ove, we will end up with nothing.
Life in mortality was never meant to last forever. As Alma taught, it is a "time to prepare to meet God [and] to prepare for that endless state which is after the resurrection of the dead." It is a short space of time which allows us to acquire the things we need to enjoy the world of eternity before we arrive there. It is a time to sow the seeds from which we will reap our harvest in the resurrection. It is a time to do those works which will bring us the greatest reward when we get to our destination. It is a time to treasure up those things which will allow us to live more comfortably in heaven.
Since none of us really knows how much time we have to prepare for that day, it behooves us to make the best use of what time we do have, instead of spending most of it picking flowers and singing songs as we travel along our journey through life.
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