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From time to time, perhaps not often enough, I mourn because of the weaknesses that linger with me like an unwelcomed guest. Just when I feel that I have gained an advantage, a trigger awakens them and they assault me once more. Sometimes I feel that I will never be rid of them. What can be done?
About a year ago, I decided on a course of action to do as the Lord counseled Moroni: Come unto Christ and ask him to show me my weaknesses with the assurance that He can transform them into strengths.[i]
Want a quick answer to prayer? Sincerely ask the Lord to show you your weaknesses and sins! But be sure to have paper and pen at hand. I guarantee that you’ll receive a revelation.
Over the next days, my prayers were answered by means of situations that provided a perfect stage upon which my weaknesses could be showcased. I was mortified. Feeling defeated, I did as I had done so many times before: I sought a secluded placed, bowed in humble prayer, pled for forgiveness and sought help.
I had imagined that the process of overcoming weakness would be less painful: I would pray, the weakness would be impressed upon my mind and a solution would be presented. Voila! No more weakness. It hadn’t occurred to me that I would actually have to encounter my weaknesses by experiencing them in real-life situations.
I decided to keep a “weakness journal,” which I planned to destroy someday. No reason to make the bad news more public than it already was. In the journal, I listed my weaknesses and read them aloud every morning and night as I prayed for relief. My intention was to tattoo the list on my mind so that I would ever see it before me and therefore be forewarned when I was tempted to step into the weakness trap.
This was my strategy for ten months. The process was exhausting and I wasn’t making much progress. I wondered, how exactly does one come unto Christ to deal with a weakness and take away a strength?
It is easier to be than try not to be
I suppose that the Lord finally determined that I had flailed about enough because one day he sent me a boon in the form of an adaptation of a famous couplet: “It is easier to be than try not to be.” Of course, the original words were famously uttered by Hamlet as he considered his dilemma. Dissatisfied with his life and its many torments, he contemplated extreme options, including escaping to the “undiscovered country.” To many of us, overcoming weaknesses seem as distant as the undiscovered country.
In my case, the adapted couplet was an appeal to the Savior. I realized that I had been putting all my energy into not being, which was an exercise of discipline, but my effort hadn’t solved the root problem. I could exert enormous effort and temporarily stop succumbing to the weakness, but I could not overcome on my own. Overcoming requires a transformation, a “mighty change”[ii] – something I was powerless to do.
Let me make this point clear: Stopping is a function of willpower, but stopping does not transform one’s nature. While it was true that I had the power to stop, it was also true that I did not have the power to change the essence of who I am. My weaknesses were ingrained in me and had become an irritating part of my identity.
I needed to be something else; that is the work of a God and a function of the Atonement. I realized that divine intervention was necessary. I needed the interceding partnership of the Savior and the Holy Ghost to provide the means for change (Atonement) and someone to intervene and enact the means (Holy Ghost). Together, they could do for me what I could not do for myself: they could purify me (extract the impurities) and sanctify me (change my purpose and my very nature).
Yielding to their purifying and sanctifying motions would literally burn the weaknesses (or sins) out of me so that a new creature could emerge, one that had no more inclination to be influenced by the weaknesses. Remarkably, the Savior, who was creating this new creature, would leave His divine signature upon my soul. That signature would manifest as a reflection of him. Imagine! The actual image of the Mighty One, who caused this mighty change of heart, would be engraved in my soul. His image in my countenance would forever be a sign to me that my spiritual rebirth was underway.
Is it really easier to be than trying not to be? Absolutely. It is much easier to make your way to Christ so that he can help you be something new than to exert exhausting willpower trying not to be.
Regarding this process, Alma’s posed questions that are thick with doctrine: “And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received him imagine in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?”[iii]
This was the answer that had eluded me. By an appeal to the Savior, I could experience the full eradication of my weaknesses. I could be transformed so that I had no more tendencies to think or act in ways that had been as natural to me as breathing. The weaknesses could be gone, and I could be new! Suddenly, I desperately wanted the mighty conversion that King Lamoni and his wife and servants experienced when they declared “that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil.”[iv]
By divine intervention, they had become something new with no need to incessantly try not to be. The prayer of Lamoni’s wife reveals the miracle of this process and her deep yearning that others could experience the mighty change: “O blessed Jesus, who saved me from an awful hell! O blessed God, have mercy on this people.”[v]
What had happened? She had received a gift that changed her nature and allowed her to be something that she had never been before.
Gifts of the Spirit
What are gifts of the Spirit? What is any gift, if not a manifestation of love? Think about receiving a gift on Christmas morning. The person who gave you the gift wanted to infuse his or her affection into the offering; above all other considerations, the gift is a token of the Giver’s love.
Moreover, gifts reveal something about the character and attributes of the Giver. Can you distinguish gifts from your mother from the gifts from your father or from you sister, brother or friend?
Every gift is individualized and attests to the Giver’s nearness and interest in your welfare. Often, gifts arrive quietly, almost anonymously, as unexpected bouquets of affection or divine love notes that communicate, “I am aware. I am near. I love you.”
In selecting the perfect gift, the Giver first considers his love for us, then he specially creates and packages something that is individually suited to us, something that takes into account our wants, needs and abilities.
His workmanship will be apparent in the gift; it will be uniquely him: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.”[vi]
Gifts of the Spirit are as numerous and varied as there are children of God. “All have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man [and woman] is given a gift by the Spirit of God.”[vii]
Because the gifts originate with God, they not only reveal God to us, they endow us with a portion of his power. Consider the woman who exemplifies charity or the man who has the ability to teach or the youth who is a true friend to all. Do we not glimpse a spark of divinity in their gifts? Do we not perceive an extraordinary power in their special abilities?
What is your gift-that innate faculty that marks you as unique? What capacity has God granted you as a token of his love-that special something that comes so naturally to you that you might overlook or discount it? Perhaps your gift is mentioned in your Patriarchal Blessing or another priesthood blessing. Maybe you have become aware of it over time. Gifts must be developed and magnified to ascend to their intended purpose. Although the scriptures contain accounts of instantaneous transformation, typically gifts provide us power to stay the course until the transformation is complete.
Seek Ye Earnestly the Best Gifts
Of course, you could have many gifts, and probably do, but most certainly you have at least one. And you are invited-even commanded–to ask for more gifts: “Seek ye earnestly the best gifts.”[viii] In doing so, however, you must always remember why gifts are given.
All gifts are bestowed to bless other people and to bring them to Christ. If you have a gift or if you desire a gift, you must be willing to give it away. Is it any wonder, then, that the first gift listed in Doctrine and Covenants 46 is the gift of testimony – “to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world”?[ix]
The Lord gives you gifts for other reasons, including:
- To protect you and help you discern false spirits and doctrines.
- To bring you to Christ.
- To make you more Christlike.
- To reveal in you one of Christ’s powers.
Yes, gifts of the Spirit are yours for the asking, but there are conditions. The Lord lists six in section 46:
1)They are not to be sought as signs (verse 9)
2)They are to be sought so that we can better serve others (verses 12 and 26)
3)We must ask for them “in the Spirit” (Verse 30)
4)They are to be used “in the name of Christ” (verse 31)
5)We must thank God “for whatsoever blessing [we] are blessed with” (verse 32)
6)We “must practice virtue and holiness before [the Lord] continually” (verse 33).
The qualification, asking for gifts “in the Spirit,” reveals the Master Gift from which all other gifts originate: the gift of the Holy Ghost. Without the Holy Ghost, we could enjoy none of the gifts of God. Do people who have not received the Holy Ghost possess gifts from God? Of course. Innate abilities are certainly blessings from God that are intended to bring people to Christ, but gifts of the Spirit have the capacity to reveal Christ in us and transform our nature to become like him. Gifts of the Spirit have power to bring other people to Christ.
Quoting the Prophet Joseph Smith, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said:
Spiritual gifts come to those who have received the gift of the Holy Ghost. As the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, the gifts of the Spirit “are obtained through that medium” [the Holy Ghost] and “cannot be enjoyed without the gift of the Holy Ghost. … The world in general can know nothing about them.”[xi]
Not Appreciating a Gift
A stern warning is levied on those who treat their gift lightly.
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.[xii]
Imagine spending time to create the “perfect gift” for a loved one then one day discovering it stashed in a corner gathering dust. What does a gift profit us if we receive not the gift? We neither rejoice in the gift nor the giver of the gift.
What about our tendency to envy the gifts of others? How would you feel on Christmas morning to have a loved one set aside your gift and covet someone else’s gift? How we esteem the gift parallels our esteem of the Giver.
Deny Not the Power and Gifts of God
I am fascinated that Moroni would select the subjects of power and gifts to complete the Book of Mormon. This would suggest that God’s power and gifts are connected. With his final words, Moroni cries,
I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God, for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever.
And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that they are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them….
And all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally, according as he will.
And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that every good gift cometh of Christ….
And now I speak unto all the ends of the earth-that if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief.
And wo be unto the children of men if this be the case; for there shall be none that doeth good among you, no not one. For if there be one among you that doeth good, he shall work by the power and gifts of God….
And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing.
If Moroni felt that God’s power and gifts were the most important subjects to seal the Book of Mormon, how much importance should we give them?
Seeking a gift of the Spirit to resolve a weakness is a correct course of action, but I am not suggesting that resolving a weakness is the only reason to seek spiritual gifts. The Lord seems to invite us to seek them so that we can better serve his children. I would be in a better position to appeal to God for a gift if my reason were to become a better father, husband, friend and servant of God. I would be in a worse position to ask if my purpose were self-serving.
I determined that I was willing to pay the price, because I want to be a better person for the sake of the people depending on me. I don’t want my family and friends to have to deal with my weaknesses one more day. I want to be better for them.
But despite my best efforts, I cannot cause the necessary transformation of my nature. I need help; I need power; I need gifts. President George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency taught the Saints:
If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect. … No man ought to say, Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature.’ He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things, and to give gifts that will eradicate them. If a man lacks wisdom, it is his duty to ask God for wisdom. The same with everything else.
That is the design of God concerning His Church. He wants His Saints to be perfected in the truth. For this purpose He gives these gifts, and bestows them upon those who seek after them, in order that they may be a perfect people upon the face of the earth.[xiv]
Because I have faith that this is true, I opened my “weakness journal,” surveyed my list, then fasted, prayed and asked in the Spirit which gifts I should seek. Immediately, four gifts were presented to my mind. One was charity. This gift is described by two witnesses (Paul and Mormon) with substantially the same language, suggesting that it was given to them by revelation.[xv]
Additionally, the description of the gift of charity is the only one that is personified in the scriptures. Charity is portrayed as if it were a person or a state of being. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things…charity never faileth.”[xvi]
I can study and attempt to assimilate the traits of charity, but I cannot be charity unless the Lord causes a mighty change in my heart, a transformation of the essence of my being. Jesus said, “I am meek and lowly in heart.”[xvii] He was describing the nature of his being; he is meek and lowly in heart. These are more than attributes; they are him.
Enos was one of the most righteous men in the Book of Mormon, but one day, he felt weighed down by his former sins and present weaknesses. He clearly had repented, but now he sought for a mighty change of heart or identity that he could not achieve on his own. He prayed to have evil, nagging things rooted out from his soul so he could become something else. His language describing the process is some of the most eloquent in scripture.
He says that he wrestled before God, which suggests that he was working hard to confront his weaknesses and make his way to Christ. He was fighting for his spiritual life because he believed, more than he ever had before, the words that his father had taught him “concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints.” He says that his father’s testimony “sunk deep into my heart.”[xviii] He wanted those gifts.
When the spirit rests upon you, you mourn over your weaknesses your and yearn to become a better person. Enos writes, “And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul.” Then came the miracle: “And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sons are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.”[xix]
Enos believed immediately, but he was astonished at how he felt. “And I said, Lord, how is it done? And he said unto me; Because of thy faith in Jesus Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen.”[xxi] That is the key. Enos received a gift because he had paid the price to come to Christ, who is the only one who can root out a sin or weakness and cause a mighty change of heart. Only Jesus can cause you to be something new.
As we read the remainder of Enos’s record, we see his motivation for seeking the gift. He wanted to be a better man so he could seek the Lord’s blessings for his family, his enemies and for his grandchildren and the grandchildren of his enemies in the last days. What happens next is remarkable. Enos receives a promise that the Lord will bring forth the Book of Mormon to redeem the latter-day generations of grandchildren. Have you ever considered that we are the beneficiaries of Enos’s promised blessing? Clearly, his gift was “that all might be profited thereby.”[xxii]
Enos ends his record saying that he dedicated his entire life to bringing people to Christ so they could experience what he had. “And I saw that I must soon go down to my grave, having been wrought upon by the power of God that I must preach and prophesy unto this people, and declare the word according to the truth which is in Christ. And I declared it in all my days, and have rejoiced in it above all that of the world.”[xxiii]
Thus is the transformative power of God as it is manifested in his gifts.
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