It has been a while, folks! Sorry about that. Been trying to get back into the swing of things after coming home from my mission. It has been a ride and a half, but now things are all settled and I am back at school.
My first week in my YSA ward, I was asked to give a talk on discipleship. And for the life of me, I could not think of any ideas. Eventually, after lots of searching and mulling things over, I had a tiny thought…
You remember in middle school, when you were obsessed with that one thing – that band, that book series, that TV show, that movie – and you had t-shirts, lavishly decorated binders that celebrated that thing you loved so much. Your life revolved around that thing – you were a fanatic, you were enthusiastic, and fired up. You would defend it to the death.
Now, back to the present. What has happened since then? I imagine that you probably are no longer obsessed with this band or whatever you used to love, at least not to the extent at which you were in middle school. What happened? Why did the bonfire of your passion burn out? Did the t-shirts get too small? Did the CDs get scratched? Did you just get interested in other things? Could have been a number of reasons. But you are over it now.
Funny how we can demote something we used to love and cherish to the trash heap of our memory. Funny how a fire that burned so bright just fizzled and went dark.
In what ways do we let this happen to our faith?
We often think of our faith, our discipleship as a solemn procession trodding the dismal path to eternal life. It can be dull being a disciple sometimes, right? However, I looked up the word disciple in the thesaurus, and instead of seeing words like believer or follower, I found words like fanatic and zealot and enthusiast. Sounds a lot more exciting than the funeral-march approach we usually take to discipleship. Being a disciple of Christ ought to fill us with passion, with intensity, with enthusiasm, with joy. We ought to feel a bonfire burning within us and an ardent zeal to follow and serve the Lord.
And we do feel this way sometimes. We have those moments that spark us, that fuel us and get us charging down the path. But sometimes, that fire dies out. We stop being the disciples we ought to be. Why? True enthusiasts would give up time, energy, and resources for the cause they love – are we willing to sacrifice those things for Christ? Well, I wanted to explore some of the reasons I found in scriptural accounts as to why we let the fire of our faith die out and then figure out how to light it up again.
Reason 1: Fizzle Out
For this point, I looked to the account of the Jaredites. (Ether 2:14)
After leaving Babel and travelling in the desert for a period of time, Jared and his people finally find a place to shack up by the sea to wait for further instructions. Moroni states that “they… dwelt in tents upon the seashore for the space of four years.” During that time, they start to get a little too comfortable.
“And it came to pass at the end of four years that the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him. And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.”
They forgot to pray? That’s a bit of an oversight, right? Well, they get to a point where they don’t need the Lord in a cloud to guide them anymore. They have it good, they are content, and since they don’t need anything, they don’t bother to ask anymore. They forget that they need the Lord constantly. They stop tending the fire of their faith and eventually it went cold.
How often do we do this in our lives? We get to a sweet spot where everything is finally going right and so we neglect our prayers, scripture study, or going to church. And in the process, the fire of our faith dims. God loves us so much that He will often send us trials to help us remember Him (or in the case of the brother of Jared, He will come and chastise us for 3 hours). Let’s not push ourselves to that point. Let’s try to remember the Lord at all times, no matter our circumstances, and keep tending the fire of our faith.
Reason 2: Dousing the Flames
Now we look to the New Testament, in Matthew 19. During His ministry, Christ encountered a rich young ruler who was a Jesus Devotee. He was a HUGE Jesus fan.
So one day the rich guy approaches Christ and asks him what else he could do to be a better follower of Christ. “All these [commandments] have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” he pleads.
Then Jesus responds with this last commandment: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
And with that what does the Jesus Mega-Fan do?
He walks away. Sell all he had? That’s way too demanding. Despite everything he loves about what Jesus taught, the rich young ruler allows that one commandment to turn him off to everything else. His love of riches doused his fire.
This dousing of the fire of our faith can come in many forms in our modern time. We could hear a sketchy story from church history that rubs us the wrong way. We could have such an overloaded schedule that makes commandments like paying our tithing or reading our scriptures daily seem onerous. We could encounter a huge trial that makes us question if God is even there.
When times like these come, we need to ask ourselves if we are going to abandon everything we know to be true for this one, fleeting moment in our lives. Will we doubt our faith first, as President Uchtdorf phrased it, our doubt those things that are holding us back? Sometimes in my life when I encounter these feelings, and I believe at some point in our lives we all will have to face doubts like these, I have to tell myself to take a step back and look at the basics. Christ is my Savior. God lives. They love me. The Book of Mormon is true. And if all that is true, then I can get through this road bump. I can complete the task before me. I can conquer this difficulty. And that helps me keep the fire burning.
Reason 3: Firework Experiences
Now we look to, in my opinion, some of the most frustrating characters in the Book of Mormon – Laman and Lemuel. These guys were a bit thick. They got smacked upside the head, so to speak, on multiple occasions. But each time, they went straight back to their wicked, scheming ways. Why? You would think that seeing an angel, amongst other miraculous events, would be enough to make anyone righteous forever. Apparently not.
See, Laman and Lemuel went through what we will call “firework experiences.” A bright flash of light. A huge turn around. Exquisite. Undeniable. But just like a firework, they let the light fade and die out as soon as it came. God gave these bros many sparks for their bonfires. But these two brothers refused to do anything to keep their fires burning. They allowed the crazy spiritual moments in their lives to fade into the oblivion of their memory until their light and potency was completely lost.
Contrast Laman and Lemuel’s story with someone else who had a firework experience, but whose fire did not die: Alma the Younger. In a similar situation to Laman and Lemuel – going around persecuting believers and what not. Just like Laman and Lemuel, he saw an angel. But Alma’s reaction to this apparition made it a life-changing event.
In Alma 5:45-46, speaking about his testimony, Alma explains: “Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?
Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.”
Nowhere in there did Alma say, “Oh yeah, I saw an angel and kinda took that as my proof.” The angel himself didn’t convert Alma. He may have sparked the fire, but he didn’t keep it burning. Alma did that. He studied, he fasted, he prayed. He made sure to tend the flames of his faith to stay a strong disciple of Christ.
We will have comparable experiences in our lives. Highly spiritual moments of revelation that will augment our faith. But they will only serve to strengthen our faith as far as we allow them to. If we don’t supplement them with our own works, those spiritual experiences will be for nothing. We must follow the example of Alma in fasting, praying, studying – keeping Christ on the brain at all times to keep wood on the fire.
Omni 1:26 “And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.”
Salvation, Power, Redemption – This isn’t a gospel of drudgery and boredom, it is a gospel of joy! This is Good News! We should reflect that in our discipleship. We should be filled with zeal and excitement. I know that we can find that joy in Christ. As we learn more of Him and do everything we can to show our devotion – giving our whole souls unto Him, as Amaleki put it – we will be filled with His purifying fire and we will become disciples that are truly His.