“Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom” [i]
Living the law of consecration moves us from gospel hobbyists to career disciples. It is a mark of true followers. President Benson taught us about this law.
We covenant to live the law of consecration. This law is that we consecrate our time, talents, strength, property, and money for the upbuilding of the kingdom of God on this earth and the establishment of Zion.
Until one abides by the laws of obedience, sacrifice, the gospel, and chastity, he cannot abide the law of consecration, which is the law pertaining to the celestial kingdom. “Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom” (D&C 105:5). The law of consecration is a celestial law, not an economic experiment. (1988, p.121)
The law of consecration is foreign to the natural man. To such it appears as a way for the Church to get rich and exercise control over us.
Those who know God and have experimented with His ways know otherwise. They know that the more they turn their lives over to God, the better their lives become. The ultimate joy is to surrender completely to God. We turn everything over to Him and life gets inexpressibly good.
Consecration is the only surrender which is also a victory. It brings release from the raucous, overpopulated cell block of selfishness and emancipation from the dark prison of pride (Maxwell, 1997, p. 62)
Various metaphors might be used for consecration. Only the vines that are connected to the roots will bear fruit. Only that part of the car which is driven into the carwash can be cleaned. Only those train cars that are hooked to the engine can be pulled up the mountain.
Only that which we bring to the altar can be sanctified and perfected.
To offer everything to God requires great faith.
For a man to lay down his all, his character and reputation, his honor and applause, his good name among men, his houses, his lands, his brothers and sisters, his wife and children, and even his own life also – counting all things but filth and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ – requires more than mere belief or supposition that he is doing the will of God; but actual knowledge, realizing that, when these sufferings are ended he will enter into eternal rest, and be a partaker of the glory of God…. A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life. (Lectures on Faith, p. 58, emphasis added.)
While many of us tentatively experiment with trusting God, He waits patiently. He will answer every experiment with the same result: Love, joy and peace are the fruits of trusting Him.
An Ancient Model of Consecration
As a young man, Abraham was deeply troubled when his fathers “turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given unto them, unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathen [and] utterly refused to hearken to my voice; For their hearts were set to do evil” (Abraham 1:5-6). The people were so totally devoid of light that they turned to sacrificing their own children. They sacrificed virgins and even attempted to slay Abraham. Over the years Abraham grew in faith and heavenly power.
Abraham was 100 years old when he and Sarah had the yearned-for son, Isaac. How they must have cherished their boy! How they must have rejoiced that their lives had been crowned with Isaac’s miraculous birth!
According to tradition, Isaac was 30 years old when Abraham received the commandment to sacrifice his son. Imagine the soul-stretching pain of being asked to participate in a ritual he loathed and to lose his cherished son!
The story is both poignant and instructive. There are rich details in the Book of Jasher (chapter XXIII, emphasis added) account that may or may not be fully doctrinal but are fully instructive.
1 At that time the word of the Lord came to Abraham, and he said unto him, Abraham, and he said, Here I am [words that are wonderfully akin to those uttered by Jehovah in answer to His call to rescue the human race!].
2 And he said to him, Take now thy son, thine only son whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which shall be shown to thee, for there wilt thou see a cloud and the glory of the Lord.
20 And Abraham went with Isaac his son to bring him up as an offering before the Lord, as He had commanded him.
25 And whilst Abraham was proceeding with his son Isaac along the road, Satan came and appeared to Abraham in the figure of a very aged man, humble and of contrite spirit, and he approached Abraham and said to him, Art thou silly or brutish, that thou goest to do this thing this day to thine only son? [There are always those who will call our offerings silly, pointless, and unnecessary!]
38 And Abraham rebuked him and said unto him, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan, begone from us for we go by the commands of God.
39 And Satan was terrified at the voice of Abraham, and he went away from them, and the place again became dry land as it was at first.
40 And Abraham went with Isaac toward the place that God had told him.
49 And Abraham took wood for a burnt offering and placed it upon his son Isaac, and he took the fire and the knife, and they both went to that place.50 And when they were going along Isaac said to his father, Behold, I see here the fire and wood, and where then is the lamb that is to be the burnt offering before the Lord?
51 And Abraham answered his son Isaac, saying, The Lord has made choice of thee my son, to be a perfect burnt offering instead of the lamb.
Can we imagine Isaac’s shock! “God wants you to be the burnt offering.” How would you react? Many of us would suspect our fathers of being unhinged. But Isaac responded with magnificent grace. Even when his father probed his resolve, he was unflinching.
52 And Isaac said unto his father, I will do all that the Lord spoke to thee with joy and cheerfulness of heart.
53 And Abraham again said unto Isaac his son, Is there in thy heart any thought or counsel concerning this, which is not proper? tell me my son, I pray thee, O my son conceal it not from me.
54 And Isaac answered his father Abraham and said unto him, O my father, as the Lord liveth and as thy soul liveth, there is nothing in my heart to cause me to deviate either to the right or to the left from the word that he has spoken to thee.
55 Neither limb nor muscle has moved or stirred at this, nor is there in my heart any thought or evil counsel concerning this.56 But I am of joyful and cheerful heart in this matter, and I say, Blessed is the Lord who has this day chosen me to be a burnt offering before Him.
Together they built the altar through tears. Then Isaac showed the depth of his humility and resolve with his request of his father.
61 And Isaac said to his father, Bind me securely and then place me upon the altar lest I should turn and move, and break loose from the force of the knife upon my flesh and thereof profane the burnt offering; and Abraham did so.
Then Isaac asked his father to look after Sarah, his mother.
63 And Abraham heard the words of Isaac, and he lifted up his voice and wept when Isaac spake these words; and Abraham’s tears gushed down upon Isaac his son, and Isaac wept bitterly, and he said to his father, Hasten thou, O my father, and do with me the will of the Lord our God as He has commanded thee.
The spirit of total submission is shown in the battle between their hearts and their eyes.
64 And the hearts of Abraham and Isaac rejoiced at this thing which the Lord had commanded them; but the eye wept bitterly whilst the heart rejoiced.65 And Abraham bound his son Isaac, and placed him on the altar upon the wood, and Isaac stretched forth his neck upon the altar before his father, and Abraham stretched forth his hand to take the knife to slay his son as a burnt offering before the Lord.
69 At that time the Lord appeared unto Abraham, and called to him, from heaven, and said unto him, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him, for now I know that thou fearest God in performing this act, and in not withholding thy son, thine only son, from me.
70 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, a ram was caught in a thicket by his horns; that was the ram which the Lord God had created in the earth in the day that he made earth and heaven.71 For the Lord had prepared this ram from that day, to be a burnt offering instead of Isaac.
The Call to Consecration in Marriage
Marriage provides glorious opportunities to practice consecration. Just as Isaac was willing to give his life as the ultimate expression of commitment to God, so we are invited to dedicate our lives, our talents, our weekends, and our weaknesses to the sacred enterprise of sanctifying our marriages and ultimately perfecting our souls.
In the day-to-day struggles of marriage we may fail to see that this ultimate sacrifice qualifies us for the ultimate reward. We shall “inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths” ? all that the Father hath! (See D&C 132:19).
This total willingness to sacrifice must not be misunderstood. This is not the same as becoming a gelatinous blob with no form or purpose. This ultimate sacrifice is combined with obedience and informed by the gospel of Jesus Christ to provide an appropriate sacrifice. As God would have it, our whole-souled offerings are likely to bless our partners even as they refine us.
Most of our sacrifices take a startlingly pedestrian form. I have never yet been called on to stand in traffic at risk of life and limb in order to protect Nancy. But I have been called on to make a thousand sacrifices that felt earthshaking.
For example, I like to squeeze the toothpaste very systematically from the bottom of the tube, making sure that every particle is methodically herded toward the nozzle and filling the measure of its creation. After emptying any part of the tube, I fold it so that none of the toothpaste can retreat and hide. I can easily justify my system as tidy and frugal. When Nancy grabs the tube in the middle and thoughtlessly squeezes, a shudder runs through my soul. She seems like a good person. How could she act in such a reckless way?
Just as that Book of Mormon king was willing to give away all his sins to know God (Alma 22:18), I must be willing to give away all my petty preferences in order to know the godliness in Nancy’s soul. I don’t lecture her or condescend to her. I may explain my method, but when it is clear that she is not going to be a conscientious paste-herder, I simply buy a clip to clamp on my tidy folds.
Of course this applies to toothpaste, dirty socks, and messy kitchen counters ? and much more! Maybe nothing in the universe would hurt us more than knowing that our partners had flirted with another person. Perhaps the deepest pain we could experience in mortality was finding that our partners had been unfaithful. Perhaps name-calling and insults would injure us seemingly beyond repair. Maybe having a partner who no longer seems to appreciate us might wound us such that we think the relationship is doomed.
At that critical juncture ? and all others ? consecration invites us to hold nothing back but put everything we have on the altar. We are willing to minister to a mixed-up spouse. We are willing to love a failing partner. We bless those who belittle us. We pray for those who have despitefully used us. [ii]
Consecration has everything to do with marriage. It is much more than “staying together for the kids.” It is acting to redeem our partners and our covenants with everything we have and everything we may draw from Heaven. We do all of this in order to establish Zion in our homes.
It took decades for me to realize the significance of the covenant I made with God and Nancy. On that January day more than 30 years ago, I promised God that I would always look for the good in Nancy. I promised that my attitude would always be redemptive ? that no sacrifice would be too great. I promised God that I would be His partner in protecting, blessing, comforting, and saving Nancy’s precious soul. After all, there is none of God’s work I will ever do that will be more important than blessing my covenant partner.
I wish I had realized all that I was promising as part of my covenants on that blessed day.
Maybe I would have been a better ? a more consecrated ? partner all along the way.
Following Christ’s Example
Recently a good man wrote to me with a great insight:
I have realized that much of my unhappiness in marriage is due to my expectation of love to be shown in a certain way and my withholding love when not feeling loved myself. I have also realized that although I rarely overtly expressed myself, my thoughts and feelings towards my wife have sometimes been overly judgmental and critical. [iii]
This kind and earnest man demonstrates yet again that the natural spouse is an enemy to marriage. We enter marriage expecting our needs to be met. We even decide how they should be met. Then, when our partners are unable to meet all of our needs, we become resentful. Our distance and resentment are communicated in subtle – or direct – ways. But the message is clear: “You are not a very good spouse. You are a disappointment. Until you make some major changes, I cannot really love and appreciate you.”
It is common for discontented partners to lament, “I just can’t tolerate the loneliness [conflict, pain, etc.] in this marriage. I must get out in order to thrive.”
I think that is how Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Is there any way out? I don’t think I can bear it!” Yet He did bear it. And in bearing it, He saved us. Had He not honored His covenant over His peace and comfort, all of us would be everlastingly lost.
The same is true in mortal marriage. No partner on the face of the earth can meet all our needs. In mortality, we will live with disappointment. We can dwell on our discontent or we can celebrate the points of connection. Kent Brooks of the BYU faculty of Church History and Doctrine observed:
Our capacity to love a spouse deeply and our ability to experience great joy in marriage are commensurate with the degree to which we are willing to suffer and hurt, to labor and toil, and to persevere through moments of unhappiness, stress, disappointment, and tests of our patience and love for our partners. (Brooks, 2004, p. 104)
And here is another irony. Those who will bear whatever is necessary in order to honor their covenants will be made glorious. They will enjoy eternal joy. They are, after all, those who have honored eternal things above temporal things.
This truth is portrayed powerfully in James Farrell’s book, The Peacegiver. Farrell shows that most of our discontents are caused by our shriveled, narrow views of our partners. When we have the mind of Christ, there is no one we cannot fully love nor gladly serve. [I recommend the book or CD to all saints!]
We can follow Christ’s example and act to serve and redeem our partners, or we can crab and complain that we have not gotten what we deserve.
Giving Gladly and Wholeheartedly
There is a popular trend toward encouraging equity in marriage. The emphasis is on sharing household duties in fair ways. There is a lot of merit in having men contribute more to the many household tasks that make a house run smoothly. In most cases women are badly overloaded and men are under-involved at home. Remedying the imbalance is worthy.
The problem with equity is in the inevitable scorekeeping that accompanies efforts toward it. Seeking equity encourages people to think about and value their own contributions. At the same time, humans almost always under-notice and under-appreciate the efforts of others. Anything that encourages this natural man tendency is destructive.
There is a better way. We can gladly offer our best efforts. We appreciate all that our partners offer. When we have unmet needs, we humbly invite: “I could sure use a hand with putting the kids to bed tonight. Is this something you could help me with?” We give gladly and we receive graciously.
So the gifts of God are to be received in the same unstinting and joyful spirit in which they are given ? freely, magnanimously, never counting the cost. (That was Brigham Young’s motto: When the work of the Lord is to be done, never count the cost.) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol.9, Ch.5, p.146, emphasis added)
Rather than carefully tracking every investment in our marriage, we give gladly and wholeheartedly. We give everything we have and are. And we ask God to increase our capacity so we can give yet more.
John Gottman’s research on marriage shows that partners who exchange equal numbers of positives and negatives are not those who are happily married. Though it may sound like a 50-50 relationship, they are at high risk of divorce. In contrast, the best indicator that a relationship would be loving and enduring was five positives for each negative! Rather than act as a careful investor, happy marriage partners throw open the doors of the storehouse and give kindness, help, and goodness.
Our Whole Souls as an Offering
Brigham Young described the way some of the saints lived the law of consecration. Each of us might consider if our offerings in marriage are of the same broken-down quality as the pioneer offerings he described.
Some were disposed to do right with their surplus property, and once in a while you would find a man who had a cow which he considered surplus, but generally she was of the class that would kick a person’s hat off, or eyes out, or the wolves had eaten off her teats. You would once in a while find a man who had a horse that he considered surplus, but at the same time he had the ringbone, was broken-winded, spavined in both legs, had the pole evil at one end of the neck and a fistula at the other, and both knees sprung. (Journal of Discourses, Vol.2, p.307)
Do we bring our greatest generosity and richest forgiving to our marriages? Do we offer our whole souls and our best efforts as an offering (See Omni 1:26)? Or do our partnerships get half-hearted, occasional, and wobbly efforts? Our marriages are ideal places to practice the law of consecration.
The Consecration in Commitment
Consecration has dimensions of both depth and length. We offer our whole souls – depth. We also continue to serve and love patiently over time – length. God has always recommended enduring to the end.
While some may argue that they do not care to be sealed eternally to the spiritual pygmies who are their partners, those who understand the things of God know that their imperfect partners will one day be made glorious. One day we may feel honored to have known the people we now disdain.
Even science shows the blessing of persistence. Research found that 86 percent of those who reported being unhappy in their marriages, but who did not divorce, five years later described their marriage as either “very happy” or “quite happy” (See Brooks, 2004, p. 104).
The Blessings of Consecration
I suspect that God designed consecration to move us from peevish, self-serving humanness to sweet, redemptive godliness.
I remember when I was the junior companion to my grandfather on our assigned home teaching route. Grandpa Percy had been a prominent man in the community and the Church. He had served as bishop or stake president for more than 30 years. But, by the time we were home teaching companions, I thought of him as merely an old man.
I remember home teaching visits to the Ramseyer family. It seemed to my 16-year-old soul that Grandpa told the same tired, old stories every time we went visiting. It was predictable and uninteresting to my teen sensibilities. My mind wandered off to things of greater interest to me.
Grandpa died the summer after I graduated from high school. Now, decades later, I yearn to know more about Grandpa’s life. I have collected his papers and photos and I have studied them. I cannot say how much I would pay to hear those “tired, old stories” just one more time. I yearn to hear the jokes, the inflection, the laughter, the tenderness. I would love to record them, transcribe them, memorize them.
But they are gone.
Appreciating the “Everyday” in Marriage
This is much like mundane marriage. It may seem tedious and trivial. Our minds ? and our hearts ? wander. But those who consecrate themselves to their marriage by bringing their whole souls as an offering to the everyday events of a relationship are building a storehouse of sweet memories. They are building an eternal relationship one brick at a time.
The Lord is speaking to each of us when He says:
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;
And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more. (D&C78: 17-19)
Consecration is a covenant that moves us from asking how we can get our needs met to asking how we can bless and serve. We become more grateful. Rather than wondering if this marriage is a good investment [iv] we ask for heavenly grace that we may love and serve as Jesus served.
As Michael Novak observed, dedication to marriage not only blesses our partners but enlarges our souls:
Marriage is an assault upon the lonely, atomic ego. Marriage is a threat to the solitary individual. Marriage does impose grueling, humbling, baffling, and frustrating responsibilities. Yet, marriage is not the enemy of moral development in adults. Quite the opposite. Being married and having children has impressed on my mind certain lessons, for whose learning I cannot help being grateful. My bonds to [my family] are, I know, my liberation. They force me to be a different sort of human being, in a way in which I want and need to be forced. (Michael Novak in Harper’s Magazine, April 1976)
President Hinckley said it directly and elegantly: “I am satisfied that a happy marriage is not so much a matter of romance as it is an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion” (Hinckley, 1991, p. 73)
Consecration in marriage is not simply about receiving our entrance card to the Celestial Kingdom. It’s also about becoming qualified for the life we will presumably be living there, which requires a transformation of character. In serving and giving to those within our family stewardship as well as demonstrating patience and continually forgiving our spouses for all the ways they might not meet our expectations, we have the opportunity to emulate Christ, thus transforming ourselves.
We witness one of the many gospel ironies. Those who relentlessly demand something better ? more attentive partners and better family life ? will be disappointed. Those who give up everything – their time, talents, and expectations in service of their families – are the ones who get Everything- Eternal Life and Glory.
When we see our challenges within marriage as customized invitations to greater goodness, we will rejoice in His perfect purposes. When we understand our marriages to be the best opportunity we will ever have to show our generosity of spirit, we will be ready to be the kind of partners God would have us be. When we recognize consecration as the training that prepares us for Heaven, we will finally know this:
Consecration is a blessing.
Are you willing to exercise full-fledged faith in God – faith that He led you to this relationship and will bless and refine you in it? Will you, with Isaac, “do all that the Lord spoke to thee with joy and cheerfulness of heart”?
Before we married, most of us expected marriage to be much like the Garden of Eden. Having been cast out of that unreasonable expectation, what sacrifices are you willing to bring to the altar of your relationship?
Are you willing to try a 30-day experiment? For 30 days are you willing to show nothing but kindness and appreciation to your partner? Are you willing to set aside complaints and disappointments and see the good intentions and best efforts in your partner? Rather than count the cost, will you consider seeing the investment as Paul did?: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NIV).
Benson, E. T. (November 1982). Fundamentals of enduring family relationships. Ensign.
Benson, E. T. (1988). The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.
Brooks, K. R. (2004). Ministering in marriage. In D. E. Brinley & D. K. Judd (Eds.), Living in a Covenant Marriage. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.
Farrell, J. L. (2004). The Peacegiver: How Christ Offers to Heal our Hearts and Homes. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.
Hinckley, G. B. (May 1991). What God hath joined together. Ensign.
Maxwell, N. A. (1997). The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.
[i] Many thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful observations and helpful recommendations!
[ii] No partner should have to tolerate physical violence. In such cases, counseling should be sought.
[iii] Used with permission of the author.
[iv] There are rare relationships that are destructive and should be ended.
2006 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.