Jesus tells the story of inviting people to a celebratory feast (Matthew 22:1-14, Luke 14:15-24). Some refuse to go. Maybe others feel obligated, so they show up. As they arrive, they look around, find a place, and slump at a table. When they are served, they grumble. “I don’t really like lamb.” Sigh. “This is so boring.” They think about all the things they would rather do. They eat a bite or two and push the hummus around. Finally, they slink out feeling at-long-last liberated.
Of course, Jesus is inviting us—each of us—to His feast. But what is our reaction to the invitation? Do we come only out of habit or in a grudging spirit of obligation?
When we go to church, maybe we hope the speakers will be better than last week. We wonder why the organist plays at such a slow tempo. We hope that our second-hour meeting is not too tedious. We mumble through the hymns and avoid participating in any class discussion. Afterward, we head to the parking lot glad to have it over.
Is discipleship a forced march? Is there nothing better than weary obligation to get us through the spiritual slog? What would you say to someone who is showing up at the feast but leaving still hungry? I can tell you what I might say.
Look for Jesus.
Jesus is the most radiant, joyous, gracious, and big-hearted person in the universe. Look for Him. He changes everything. Just as He raised the dead, cured leprosy, and gave hope to weary souls, He stands ready to lift our spirits, heal our blighted souls, and give purpose to our struggles.
We need more reason for attending church than habit or obligation or an opportunity to see friends. We are primarily there to worship Jesus and connect with Him.
We need Jesus.
The way each of us accesses Jesus will be different. But, if we are focused, we will find Him. For example, as we enter the chapel, we will see people who are partly annoying and partly amazing. To see the amazing is to see Jesus at work. We can approach them lovingly, looking for Jesus at work in their souls, and be reminded He is at work in our souls as well.
During the prelude music and hymns, we can listen for Jesus. Once in a while, there will be a hymn that awakens my soul. I close my eyes and enjoy the unique resonance of musical testimonies of Jesus.
I love the sacrament. We praise Him in song. I follow the words of the covenants—reflecting on the Father and the Son’s earnest reach for us. I study my favorite artistic representations of Them. The Aaronic priesthood holders carry to each of us very personal messages of His investment in us. Often, I weep in gratitude.
We can feel Jesus.
Talks can be a minefield. The amount of true doctrine varies widely. I can choose to be a Pharisee and find fault with flawed doctrine and weak delivery. Or I can see Jesus. I can see one of His children struggling along the path, seeking Him, and making vital discoveries. I will admit that sometimes that is not enough for me. Sometimes I am craving solid doctrine about Him. So sometimes I simply ask Jesus to teach me what He would say if He were the one giving the talk. He gives great talks!
Sometimes classes can provide valuable insights. Other classes seem to aimlessly wander or never get past shallow discussions. When that happens, I ask Jesus what message related to the topic being discussed He has specifically for me. How would He invite me to apply the key principles to my life so that I draw closer to Him and His desires for me?
We can be taught by Jesus.
When we head home, Jesus does not stay behind at the chapel. He is a part of every element of our lives. So, we try to greet family members as Jesus would. At the dinner table, we talk of our Jesus sightings. Every evening, I make brief notes in my planner—the small plates of Wally—about places I have seen Him and His influence in my day.
We can record our sightings of Jesus.
We can have conversations with Jesus. While the tired, old prayer scripts don’t work for me, honest and earnest conversations do. I have a friend who has found her best discussions tend not to be on her knees at night. They are in the car while she is driving or while she takes a walk outside. She is less concerned about following any format and simply talks with Him as a friend—about her thoughts of the day, her struggles, her joys, her needs. What works for you? Have you found ways to talk with Jesus that feel real and meaningful?
We can talk with Jesus.
And 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
We will all have times of spiritual blindness when we don’t see Him—times when we don’t want to see Him. At such times, I follow Alma’s pattern. I fall to the ground and cry out, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death” (Alma 36:18).
A friend told of a discussion she had with a Stake leader. He said to her, “You are really angry with Heavenly Father right now. You should tell Him that.” She shook her head—“That would be so inappropriate!” He wisely counseled her, “My guess is you aren’t talking with Him at all right now. He can take your anger and your doubts. What He doesn’t want is for you to end your conversations with Him.” She reported that she followed that counsel and by the end of prayer was in tears of gratitude as she felt understood and loved.
If we engage with Heavenly Father and Jesus, even during times when we don’t see them there, they will respond to our humble pleas.
We can call on Jesus.
Each of us is personally invited by Jesus to feast on the blessings of a relationship with Him. So, how do we approach the encounters with Him? Instead of plodding through them out of habit or in a spirit of obligation, we can cherish our time with the One who changes everything. We can run to His embrace. Instead of complaining about the lamb, we can embrace the Lamb. Instead of grumbling about boredom, we can seek the Light and Life of the world.
We can examine each of our spiritual practices. Are we finding joy, growth, and Jesus in them? If not, how can we better focus them to find radiant Jesus? We know we have found Him when our cups overflow with “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38).
God has invited us to a feast with Him. Will you come and be fed by Him?
Invitation: It is my objective as an author to combine the revealed truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ with the principles of human behavior that I studied as an academic. To those two great sources of truth, I add my life experience. If that approach to learning is useful to you, I recommend my book on relationships, Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships. You may also be interested in my book on marriage, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, my books on parenting, Between Parent and Child (revised from Haim Ginott’s classic), and The Soft-Spoken Parent. You can find these books at LDS booksellers or Amazon.
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful contributions to this article.