The Plan Repeated
After all the emotion of Christ’s death, resurrection and appearance to the Nephites in the New World, 3 Nephi chapter 12 can feel a bit anti-climactic. It’s the new world, all things are made new and yet these chapters come from the old world and a sermon he already gave.
It’s tempting to see the Sermon on the Mount here and think, well we already studied this in the New Testament. So I guess I can kind of just skim over this section, since I already know it, to get to the stuff that’s unique to the Book of Mormon.
Consider though for a moment.
The resurrected Son of God is at the temple visiting his other sheep in the America’s for a brief period of time.
In chapter 11 Christ organized his church, calling and instructing the twelve. Now in chapter 12 he turns to the multitude to give the opening remarks to one the most miraculous and wonderful visits ever recorded on the earth.
He could teach any number of doctrines, tell one his famous parables or make up a new one unique to this people and place. He decides though to lead with very sermon on the plan of happiness he had given in the old world upon a mountain side.
If it meant that much to him, we decided we could study the sermon a little deeper this time and see what message the Savior thought was so important that it was worth repeating.
Where to Find Real Joy
Beginning with an injunction to heed the words of the leaders he had called to teach his people, Christ launches into the beatitudes, using the word “blessed” to describe a state of joy, happiness or divine rapture which accompanies the enlightened view of life he teaches.
This was particularly interesting given that much of this blessed/joyful state is associated with mourning, submission, hunger, persecution and poverty, words we rarely associate with great joy.
It’s as if he’s saying I love you so much.
I want nothing so much as I want for you to be happy and I know better than anyone how to help you find it.
But you’ve been going about it the wrong way for far too long.
Let me teach you what brings real joy.
When we looked closer at the virtues Christ associates with happiness here and began to notice how each one stands in stark contrast to some way the world seeks in vain for happiness.
Man’s Search for Happiness
|In the World||False Promise||In Christ||True Promise|
|Money & Means||Buy anything in the world for a price||Poor in Heart||An eternal kingdom of glory|
|Escapism & Partying||Never face your fears again||Mourning & Contrition||Forgiveness, peace and the comforter|
|Power & Prestige||Have it your way, always||Meekness||Inherit all the Father hath|
|Feasting & Getting what you want||Instant gratification – You want it, you got it||Fasting / Hunger after Righteousness||Souls filled with God’s spirit|
|Justice & Getting Even||Revenge will feel so sweet||Mercy||Receive the son’s mercy|
|Hedonism & Promiscuity||Feel good (for a moment)||Pure in Heart||See God|
|Conquering & Defeating someone||Rise above them all||Peacemakers||Become a child of God|
|Fame, Flattery & Praise of the World||Everyone will love you||Persecuted for my name’s sake||Great joy and exceeding gladness|
– World: Money / Means
– Christ: Poor in Heart
However much or little we have in this life temporally, it is where we set our hearts that matters. Setting them on Christ and remembering our need for him in great want and abundance alike brings joy.
– World: Escapism / Partying
– Christ: Mourning and Contrition
God doesn’t expect us to live a life of strict severity and sadness. Gospel living is much more fun, hopeful, humorous and liberating than the alternative. Here a call to mourn is a plea to a contrite spirit, to make use of the atonement in our lives to deal with our imperfections and sins so that we don’t need to escape and are prepared to receive greater joy.
– World: Power / Prestige
– Christ: Meekness
Christ had all the power in the Universe and yet submitted to the will of his Father. Ammon could have withstood an army single handedly and yet got to work feeding, grooming and mucking horses.
When we are filled with God’s power, we know from whence it comes. There’s no need to show it off or to use it for anything other than His work and according to his will.
– World: Feasting / getting what you want
– Christ: Fasting / Hunger after Righteousness
The offerings of the world never leave us fed. Eventually we may get fed up at the unattainable happiness which is always in the future no matter how much we’ve attained already.
When I am ____ or have ____ or get ____ then I’ll be happy. Only in chasing this route we end up just more hollow than happy.
By contrast to hunger after God’s gifts, no matter how bright that flame and desire grows, God finds a way to fill it and to care for our every true need.
– World: Revenge / Getting Even
– Christ: Merciful
Sometimes we hold onto grudges like they were made of gold, believing happiness can come at someone else’s expense.
Justice is certainly an eternal principle and one that must be fulfilled somehow, but we couldn’t find many scriptures where Justice = Joy.
The power to forgive, to show mercy, to set someone free from the awful grasp of justice and to in turn be set free ourselves, those tend to be the kind of acts that cause our souls to smile ear-to-ear.
– World: Hedonism / Promiscuity
– Christ: Pure in Heart
In Elder Hollands remarkable address “Of Souls, Symbols and Sacraments” he notes that human passion and the powers of procreation are often symbolized by heat and fire which must be properly channeled and guarded lest our souls be seared.
In my line of work we cut through thick metal plates using concentrated beams of light and heat known better known as lasers. While the sparks and spectacle of that process can seem transfixing, looking directly at a laser without the proper eye protection can sear the optic nerve leaving the viewer blinded.
Similarly when God’s children employ the powers of procreation outside of the bounds he set, they find themselves in a state of spiritually blindness and darkened perspective. Great hopes and dreams for the future become obscured and everyday joy in life greatly diminished.
In contrast the pure in heart who counsel with the Lord and preserve these sacred stewardships will find their minds and souls enlightened to see deeper and farther spiritually until they indeed come to see God as He is.
– World: Conquering / defeating someone else
– Christ: Peacemakers
So much of our ideas of success are built upon an idea that to win in life someone else must lose, or it’s not enough to be good, I have to be better than someone.
While competition can be an exciting part of life, life itself is not a competition.
Think of Christ feeding the 5,000 or the Lamanite converts and refugees being welcomed into the fold. Christ’s gospel is one of abundance. We can give endlessly of His light and love and never have less.
– Fame & Flattery / Praise of the World
– Christ: Persecuted for his name
The world tends to idolize those who have attained a reputation for power, wealth, accomplishment, entertainment or any of the other false paths to happiness.
Christian values may not be mainstream or popular and they might even provoke ridicule, scorn or worse. However holding these values, taking upon us His name is the surest protection against the powers of darkness and the oil we carry from that pursuit will illuminate our way upon the path that leads to happiness.
I Give Unto You to Be
Interestingly in the Book of Mormon account Christ doesn’t just say: “Ye are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Instead, he uses the phrase “I give unto you to be…”
Christ is the light.
Infusing our lives with that light and the joy of covenant living is His gift to us.
As we fill our lives with Him, we cannot help but shine.
Others us seeking that joy they long for and know from another time will find it and in turn find Christ as we let those gifts radiate.
As Isaiah spoke:
“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the rightness of thy rising.” (Isaiah 60:1-3)
Training our Desires
Next Christ turned to the heart.
Knowing where real happiness is to be found and how to find it is not enough.
We have to want it.
That may seem straightforward and simple, but how many people do you know who could score perfectly a multiple choice test about where to find lasting happiness and yet don’t seem to have to resolve to pursue it.
Even the Fab Four who knew that “All You Need is Love” and “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” ended up singing “Just Give Me Money – that’s what I want”.
What do we want most deeply?
Where is our eye, our light focused?
What do we treasure?
Christ taught that our desires are something we can both direct and improve upon. We can exercise our agency in ways that strengthen and develop righteous desires until they become, as Neal A. Maxwell used to say, relentless.
Like so many gospel principles the execution isn’t complicated. It begins by just being intentional about our thoughts.
We used to give an object lesson in youth Sunday School classes where we would pull out a single piece of chocolate and eat it in front of the class.
As we did so, we would describe it with every possible sense. The texture, the color, the sound of the wrapper, the smell, the feel of it on your tongue and the taste which transformed as the warmth of your mouth caused the sweet chocolate to slowly melt.
As the chocolate disappeared we would ask the class what they wanted most in that moment.
Chocolate came the universal reply.
(Side note: If the lesson was on Satan’s counterfeits we would then hand out pure baking chocolate and let everyone try it at once. The drastic contrast between the expected and longed for sweetness and actual bitterness got everyone’s attention and helped us explain how important it is that we are careful about the messages and thoughts we take in because they cause us to hunger and seek after things that seem sweet in theory but are bitter to swallow in reality)
Our thoughts ignite our desires.
So why can’t we choose to think about the things we care most about asks the Savior?
Rather than going through the motions of the gospel and avoiding the outward acts of sin while allowing our thoughts and desires to drift after the natural man, why not dedicate ourselves to really kickstarting our Godly desires through thoughts of happiness, holiness, forgivensess, gratitude and the like.
What if we, like the Nephites in Christ’s presence, decided that what we wanted most of anything today was for the Holy Ghost to be with us, to open our eyes and hearts to hear Christ’s voice and receive of his perfect, redeeming, transforming love.
The more we bring in, the more we allow ourselve to hunger after those hopes the brighter and purer our hearts become until we want what God wants, our eyes become single and our whole bodies filled with light.
Consider the Lilies
Christ continues teaching the power of prayer in turning our hearts and desires to our Father in Heaven, the importance of setting our hearts on true treasure and the need to ask, seek and knock throughout our lives so that God can shower upon us that grace and joy he so deeply desires to bestow.
He also gives one of the most beautiful illustrations of his care and power to do more than we can sometimes imagine.
He knows we have lives that are filled with many demands on our attention, that we have many hats to wear and responsibilities to juggle.
As much as we would love the feeling of spending our days in pondering and prayer and wonder at his goodness there are meals to prepare, rides to provide, assignments to complete, meetings to attend, questions to answer, errands to run, messages to respond to, friends to connect with, events to attend and that is just the necessary stuff before all the distractions and unplanned stuff in everyday earth life.
So he teaches us about the wonder of wildflowers beginning with “consider the lilies”.
It’s Christ’s way of saying:
Don’t worry, I’ve got you.
It’s not as bad or as complicated as you sometimes think
In fact it’s rather simple
I made it all
It’s in my hands and so are you
I know everything you need to survive, to thrive and to become here
I know the deepest desires of your soul and I alone have the power to fulfill them
I have a plan and it’s a very good one.
One in which you trust me and I will lead you to a kind of happiness, peace and glory beyond anything you’ve every seen or imagined.
Do your best to learn, to love, to grow.
But let me be a part of it all.
In the whirlwhinds of life, let me stand with you at the center
Performing the wonders that only I can
To fulfill all you were meant to be as God’s child
If you do the light and joy you will experience is beyond anything this world will ever know.
I am the law, the center the foundation of all creation and God’s plan
I am also the light, the way, the truth and the beacon to which you can look and find a path forward no matter how dark it gets
Look to me, keep your eyes fixed and do the small things that help you remember and feel and recall my hand and love in your life
Ask for my help with all the faith and desire you can muster
Then trust and listen for it
And you will find that you come to live even as I live
In light that can never ever be darkened
In love that never fails
In joy that knows no end