Summary: To be on probation means giving a person an opportunity to prove they are willing to follow the rules. It’s a trial period or a period of testing. According to the teachings of Alma, our life here on earth is a time of probation, where we are being tested, or given the opportunity to prove that we will do all things whatsoever the Lord, our God shall command us. Yet, God also allows us to do many things on our own according to our own desires. However, some things are more important to do than others. This article examines what those things are.
In speaking to the people of Ammoniah about our life here on earth, Alma told them “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).
To be on probation means giving a person an opportunity to prove they are willing to follow the rules. It’s a trial period or a period of testing. According to Alma, our life here on earth is a time of probation where we are being tested, or given the opportunity to prove that we will do all things whatsoever the Lord, our God shall command us (see Abraham 3:25)
However, God doesn’t command us in everything, which means there are many things we can do on our own according to our own desires. In fact, the vast majority of things we do are left up to us to decide, but with so many things to do in a limited amount of time (we only have 24 hours in each day), this creates the problem of deciding what things to spend our time on and how much time we choose doing it.
What most people do is make a list of the things they want to accomplish and put them in the order of their importance. Then, following the list, they spend their time doing the most important thing first before starting to work on the second most important task. Of course, since everyone is unique, all of us have different things that are important to us, which means no two people will have the same lists of priorities.
Yet, at the same time, all of us have many things in common. For example, even though each of us look different, yet we all have the same human form that are all made the same internally. We all need to eat, wear clothing, have shelter, and we all want to be happy.
And it’s because of these common traits, there are some priorities that are equally important to everyone. As has already said, we all need air, food, and water in order to survive. When these things are easily accessible, they’re not something we worry about, but if someone were to find themselves trapped underwater, absolutely nothing is more important to them at that point than being able to breathe air.
There is something called the Prado Principle, or the 80/20 rule which says that 20% of what we do produces 80% of what we want to get accomplished. And the converse is also true, which is that 80% of the things we spend time doing, only produces 20% of what needs to be done. What this tells us is that much of what we do in life accomplishes very little good, and that there are just a few things in life that really matter.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Work smarter, not harder.” Being busy doesn’t always result in getting more work done therefore, if we spend our time doing things that are not important, then the things that really matter get neglected, in which case, we’ve worked hard, but we haven’t worked smart.
Since 20% of the things we need to do results in accomplishing 80% of what’s most important, then it’s vital that we indentify what those important 20% things are.
Although each of us are different and therefore we each have different priorities, yet there are things that should have the same high priority for all of us. Unfortunately, many of them are things that most people don’t think about but are just as important as breathing air.
It’s been said that when we die, we can’t take anything with us, but that’s only true when speaking about material possessions such as money, homes, cars, clothing, fame, or earthly power. But there are some things we do take with us, and since we will live a much longer time in the next life, then we need to know what we can take with us when we die and ensure that we make those things a priority in our life. This is what Alma meant when he said that this life is “a time [for us] to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state.”
The apostle James said that our life is but a vapor (James 4:14), and compared to eternity, a hundred years or even two hundred years is but a blink of an eye. As such, life here on earth was never meant to be our final destination but is merely a short stopping point designed to give us the opportunity to prepare for what lies ahead. The reason why Alma said that life on earth is a probationary state is because, of all the things we can choose to spend our time doing, we’re being tested to see if we will choose to do those things that will prepare us to meet God and live in an endless state.
Obviously, those are the things that are most important, and what should be at the very top of our priority list. However, they make up only 20% of the things we can choose to spend our time doing, but if we neglect them, and spend our time worrying about the 80% of other things life has to offer, then we won’t be prepared when we enter the next life.
This then raises the question of, what are the 20% of things that are most important for us to do that will help prepare us for after we die? The answer is found in knowing what things we can take with us when we leave this world.
Since we continue to exist after we lay our mortal bodies in the ground, one of the things we take with us when we die is ourselves, and because of that, whatever kind of person we were in this life will go with us into the next life.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that we came here to learn how to become like God. Therefore, the most important thing we can do in preparation to meet God is to develop a God-like character, but how do we do that?
When people go to college, they don’t go there just to be taught anything the college offers, but in nearly all cases, the student has a specific goal in mind of what they want to do after college. Therefore, they choose a particular course of study to major in that will help prepare them for their future employment.
For example, a student may choose to major in engineering, medicine, science, law, language, education, or one of many other professions, and the various courses they’ll take during their college yeas are designed to help them be successful in their chosen field of work.
Since the purpose of earth life is to help us become like God, and since none of us know how to do that, then we must be taught by someone who can teach us. The apostle Paul explained: “As it is written: What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-11, NIV).
We don’t know what God knows, nor are we able to conceive what God has prepared for us, but the Holy Ghost does, and so he is the one who must teach us. In college, we have to attend the necessary classes, learn the lessons the professor is teaching, and complete the assignments he gives us. And the same is true of learning from the Holy Ghost.
In college, students don’t just attend one class but are required to take a number of different, but related subjects, and each class is located in a different room, and sometimes in a different building. Therefore, the student has to go to their assigned classes at the time they are scheduled. Furthermore, they’re expected to come prepared to learn and be taught. In the same way, the Holy Spirit has many different things to teach us, and he teaches them in many different ways and in many different locations.
One of those locations is in the scriptures. We can think of them as God’s textbook, but sometimes reading the scriptures can create more questions than answers, therefore, another place where the Holy Ghost teaches us is in church, where we are taught the things of God from the pulpit, in our Sunday School, priesthood, Relief Society, and Young Men and Young Women classes. This also applies to listening to and reading the talks given in General Conference.
In Christ’s restored church, those who speak to us on Sunday are not trained, professional instructors, as they have in other faiths, and because of this, many times what is said from the pulpit may not be very enlightening, but, when we go to God’s classroom, those speaking to us are not the real instructors. The Holy Ghost is.
Therefore, whenever we attend any of our church meetings, we should be attentive to the whisperings of the Holy Ghost, along with what the speaker is saying. We’ve all had the experience of going to church and come away feeling well taught while someone else who heard the same lesson got nothing out of it. Even when the speaker or instructor is not particularly inspiring. the Holy Ghost can still enlighten our mind and teach us if we are attentive to his voice.
But there are many times when we do attend our church meetings and come away without having learned anything new. When that happens, we have to understand how the Holy Ghost teaches.
If someone were to give us ten things to do, we might find it difficult to get them all accomplished, but if we were given one or two assignments, we would find them much easier to get done. In the same way, the Holy Ghost teaches us line upon line, here a little, and there a little, and because of this, he doesn’t overwhelm us. Instead, he tries to make it easier for us to learn how to become more like God.
When we come to church, the Holy Ghost might give us one small thought or idea from the hours of information we received from those speaking to us, but that one thing could have a dramatic impact upon our life. Or we might go through the whole meeting schedule without learning anything new, but perhaps we might learn something useful the next time we attend church. But if we don’t go to church because we think we’re not getting anything out of it, then that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This same principle applies to going to the temple. When we go there, we should come prepared to be taught, and even if we don’t come away each time having learned something new or inspiring, just being in the House of the Lord, is like taking a spiritual shower. It helps clear our mind and helps us refocus on the real world we hope to live in throughout eternity. More than that, when we show God we’re willing to spend time with him in his holy house, he endows us with his power and strengthens us spiritually.
However, a good teacher doesn’t just give lectures but also gives assignments because we learn more by doing than by hearing. Therefore, going to church, or the temple isn’t just about being preached to but being taught how to put into practice the things we’ve learned.
That form of learning comes from listening to the Spirit and following his promptings, and, of course, these kinds of homework assignments can and do happen anywhere we may be. This is what President Nelson means when he counsels to us “hear him.”
Closely associated with becoming more like God is gaining knowledge. The scriptures tell us that “The glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36) and that “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:18,19).
Not only do we take the kind of person we’ve become with us when we die, but we also take whatever knowledge we’ve gained while here in mortality. But, just like everything else, some kinds of knowledge are more important than others.
The Lord himself has explained “For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory” (D&C 88:22). If we are hoping to live with God forever in the celestial kingdom, then the most important knowledge we can gain is learning the laws of that kingdom, because if we don’t know them and haven’t learned how to follow them, then we “cannot abide a celestial glory.”
The reason why God can live in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom is because he knows and perfectly obeys the law that governs that kingdom. The purpose of reading the scriptures, going to church and the temple, and stiving to live the commandments is to give us the knowledge we need to live with God forever. Therefore, learning the gospel and how to apply it in our life should be among one of our highest priorities.
Another thing we can take with us when we die is the relationships we’ve made, especially within our families. It’s been said that salvation is an individual affair, but eternal life is a family affair. We enter into the celestial kingdom as individuals, one by one. We are baptized as individuals, are given the Holy Ghost as individuals, and make covenants with God as individuals, but to receive eternal life a man and a woman must have been sealed together as husband and wife because they can only enter into their exaltation together.
Closely associated with this is having children sealed to their parents in an unbroken line all the way back to Adam and Eve. We are all children of our Father in heaven, and as such, we belong to the family of God. In the eternities, those who enter into their exaltation will do so, not just as husbands and wives, separate and distinct from all other husbands and wives, but all of us must be linked together into one great family structure. That family relationship will last forever, and what we do here on earth now is building that structure.
Jesus gave the parable of the foolish man who built his house on sand. It looked fine and stood firm during good times, but when the winds came, and the storms blew, and the rain beat down, the house fell. On the other hand, the wise man built his house on a rock and no matter what happened, their house stood firm and immovable.
If we are building a brick house, no matter how firm the foundation may be, if the mortar that holds the individual bricks together is weak, the house will still fall. Our homes are made up of individual people, and if we want our family relationship to last forever, we not only have to build it on a strong foundation but the bonds that hold us together must also be strong.
As all homeowners know, no matter how nice the home may be, or how sturdy the foundation, there will always be things that need to be repaired. It may be a leaky faucet, or a clogged drained, a hot water tank that stops working, or a myriad of other problems that need to be fixed.
If the homeowner takes care of problems as soon as they become evident, the repairs will be relatively easy to do and the house will remain in good condition, but if the homeowner neglects to promptly fix the problems, they not only become harder to repair later but they’re cumulative effect makes the house less livable.
And this same principle applies to a marriage. Nearly all marriages begin looking like a beautiful house, but before long, problems arise, and in many cases, instead of fixing what is going wrong, couples make things worse by arguing, and bickering with each other, and then let their disagreements smolder and burn with anger, which can drive couples to engage in further destructive behavior.
If differences of opinion are resolved quickly and in a loving way, the marriage will remain beautiful and the bonds of love will remain strong, but if problems are allowed to fester and multiply, the bonds of love that holds a family together will weaken and eventually crumble. And even if they don’t completely break, the relationship will become strained, and their family life will not be as pleasant as it could be.
Showing kindness, expressing affection, being considerate of one another doesn’t take a lot of time or effort, but doing simple things like these on a regular basis are the cement that holds a family together. It’s been said that kindness is the oil that takes the friction out of personal relationships, therefore, to have a strong family life, apply kindness liberally.
Building a Christ-like character, gaining knowledge, and strengthening one’s family relationships takes doing small and simple things, but if we ensure that these few things are being properly taken care of, they will produce great results. There are many things in life that demand our time and attention, but the test is to see if we are willing to focus on doing the 20% of things that matter most as we prepare ourselves for eternity, or if will we spend most of our time worrying about the other 80% of things that do nothing help prepare us to meet God. This is the purpose of our probation.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Spiritual Growth