Alice Ruth Drechsel was my aunt and one of my favorite teachers. She taught our large and diverse young single adult Sunday school class in the Monument Park 12th Ward. Each of us came to her class with something on our minds. We might be worrying about struggles at school, uncertainties with girlfriends and boyfriends, or scraps with siblings. We chatted, fretted, and buzzed.
Then Aunt Ruth called us to order. She looked into our hearts and spoke from hers: “Don’t you just love Jesus!” Her countenance radiated and she struggled to restrain her tears of devotion. She had us. We could no more resist her heartfelt love for the Savior than stop breathing. She was an authentic messenger for Jesus. She could point us heavenward and we all longed to travel with her to meet our Redeemer.
I have many other great experiences with pointers in my life. One of the most memorable was a sealing in the Salt Lake Temple. After all of us were seated in the sealing room, Elder Neal A. Maxwell entered and greeted us warmly and personally. Then he stood before the group and spoke of Jesus as warmly and personally as if he had just been in His presence.
I felt certain that if I ran to the sealing room door and peered down the hall, I would see Jesus treading away to His next rendezvous. Elder Maxwell’s message made me more anxious to see Him and be with Him.
In my youth, I had looked to my bishops as models. I wanted to be like Bishop Smoot or Bishop Brown. Years later God called me to be a bishop. I grieved that I was not a better model. I wished I felt as noble as my bishops had been. Yet I realized with time that my job was not to be a model as much as a pointer. I could point ward members to the One who teaches, comforts, guides, loves, and redeems us. As I pointed to Jesus, I magnified my calling and felt joy.
The scriptures are packed with great pointers. In fact it seems that the central purpose of all scripture is to point us to Christ. Nephi spoke for all pointers when he said that “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26)
The central task of life is to know the only true God and His beloved son and devoted messenger, the Lord Jesus Christ (See John 17:3).
Satan would be glad to keep us from discovering the ultimate model or from having a relationship with Him. He is glad to have us choose mortal models who will eventually disappoint us. He is delighted when we choose glamorous, famous, or powerful models whose values are at odds with God’s directives. They may keep us from honoring God and godliness.
Satan even uses holy means to distract us. Sometimes we study the scriptures as an end in itself instead of as pointers to God. Sometimes our fretting about keeping the commandments is tantamount to trying to perfect ourselves rather than throwing ourselves on the merits, mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah. Certainly we must do all that we are able, but it is God who is in charge of the miracles of changing our hearts and renewing our spirits.
I know that I was guilty of spiritual self-sufficiency when I was a freshman in college. Every day I graded myself on 27 criteria, giving myself a steady barrage of failing grades. I seemed to think that keeping track of my errors was a way to overcome them. Yet, with flagging hope and growing despair, my self-analysis was counterproductive.
A Different Focus
The prophet Joseph Smith taught, “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God” (TPJS, p. 345). Elder Maxwell quoted Malcolm Muggeridge: “The necessity of life is to know God. Otherwise our mortal existence is no more that a night in a second class hotel.”
If we read the scriptures, attend church, and serve others without the primary intent being to come to know and serve the heart and the will of Christ, we are at risk of becoming rule worshipers. Any time we keep commandments without a focus on Him, we have much in common with the Pharisees. The focus of all commandments is to point us to Christ. To keep the commandments without a focus on Christ is to drive a car without a destination or purpose. We are instructed to do “all things with an eye single to the glory of God” (See D&C 82:19).
Sometimes when I have served as a bishop, I have had ward members who felt overwhelmed – who were going to school full time, working full time, and trying to care for young families. They tended to feel keenly guilty that their scripture study was not as substantial as it had been other times in their lives. They assumed that God was unhappy with them and therefore distant.
I see our relationship with God quite differently. He is not the peevish landlord who demands a daily payment if we want to avoid eviction. He is not the money lender who stands ready to cast us into oblivion if we miss an installment of scripture study. He is our Father. We have a personal and eternal relationship with Him.
Seasons of Imbalance
Some of our adult children have seasons of imbalance when they cannot spend as much time with us as other times. We understand and try to offer extra support at such times. So also God understands the demands on us. He wants our hearts even more than our schedules. He wants our love, not our guilt. We must not let anything – even good things – keep us from a loving relationship with Him.
This line of reasoning might be used to justify carelessness and neglect in our service of Him. That would be a mistake. We are not looking for a cheap way to sustain a relationship. We are looking to make him the King of our lives. He wants all of us – our hearts, might, minds, and souls.
Yet when I have counseled with overwhelmed ward members, I have encouraged them to find a way to be strengthened and lifted by Him in times of overload. They may not have time for in-depth scripture study, but they can sing hymns of praise while driving to work. There will be times when they do not have long periods for meditation, but they can have a mental conversation with Father while walking to class. Evening prayers may be compromised by exhaustion but we should all find times daily to praise His name.
The best teachers, the best leaders, the scriptures, and all of creation combine to point us to the One who yearns to have a relationship with us. He wants to lift our spirits, direct our actions, give meaning to our struggles, and redeem our souls. We should not carry a checklist of chores but a gratitude list for blessings. Our sense of obligation must never obscure His yearning to bless us.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you;
Richard L. Evans observed, “Our Father in heaven is not an umpire who is trying to count us out. He is not a competitor who is trying to outsmart us. He is not a prosecutor who is trying to convict us. He is a Loving Father who wants our happiness and eternal progress and everlasting opportunity and glorious accomplishment, and who will help us all he can if we will but give him, in our lives, the opportunity to do so with obedience and humility and faith and patience” (Conference Report, October 1956, p.101).
May we point each other to the heart of God.
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