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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Rend the Veil of Unbelief, Part 5: Hearing Him


I believe that God is communicating with us all the time. He's far more loving, caring and wanting to be involved in our lives than we may suppose.

The fact that we don't hear Him (in our hearts and minds) as often likely isn't a deficiency on God's part, but ours.

When we're able to clear the static from our spiritual radio tuners, and able to tune into the signals that God is constantly broadcasting, we are far more able to hear Him. And in the process, we're sent on the most thrilling, exciting journey of our lives. Because it's with Him.

Your Spiritual Radio Tuner


On September 5, 1993, Elder James E. Faust gave a little-known but terrific BYU Fireside Address (the entirety is found here) about tuning in to the Spirit.  If possible, please listen to this brief, excerpt of his speech; it’s well worth your time…

One of the passages in this talk particularly resonated with me:

“Learn to ponder the things of the Spirit and to respond to its promptings; filter out the static generated by Satan. As you become attuned to the Spirit, ‘thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it’ (Isaiah 30:21).”
In the May 2004 First Presidency message, Elder Faust expanded the metaphor of the radio:
"My first radio was a crystal set. It was hard to tune to the frequency of a particular radio station. I had to literally scratch the receiving wire whisker over the top of the rough crystal to find the right pinpoint, a little valley or peak on the crystal where the signal was received. Just a millimeter off on either side of that point and I would lose the signal and get scratchy static. Over time, with patience and perseverance, good eyesight, and a steady hand, I learned to find the signal point on the crystal without too much difficulty. 
So it is with inspiration. We must attune ourselves to the inspiration from God and tune out the scratchy static. We have to work at being tuned in. Most of us need a long time to become tuned in. When I was a newly called General Authority, President Marion G. Romney, who was in his 70s at the time, told us, “I know when I am working under the Spirit and when I am not.” To be able to recognize when one is being guided by the Spirit is a supernal gift. 
In terms of modern communication, crystal radio sets helped us emerge from the dark ages of communication. With advanced technology, cellular phones are used for much of the communication in our time. Occasionally, however, we find dead spots where the signal coming to a cell phone fails. This can happen when the cell phone user is in a tunnel or a canyon or when there is other interference. 
So it is with divine communication. The still, small voice, though still and small, is very powerful. It “whispereth through and pierceth all things” (D&C 85:6).  But like my old crystal set, the message may be there but we fail to pick it up. Perhaps something in our lives prevents us from hearing the message because we are 'past feeling' (1 Nephi 17:45).  We often put ourselves in spiritual dead spots—places and situations that block out divine messages. Some of these dead spots include anger, pornography, transgression, selfishness, and other situations that offend the Spirit."
Indeed, the signals of the Spirit are so subtle, they are almost imperceptible to the telestial soul.  And in our harried, busy, distracted modern-day lives, we need every advantage, every strategy possible, to effectively “tune in” to the Spirit so we can ponder God’s words.

I know these days, many people are envious (whether they'd admit it or not) of those who have seen the Savior, had an audience with Him, or even been ministered to by Him. And there's no doubt, such experiences are significant, sacred and rare. But in my experience, even rarer are those who hear Him often and know His personality with crystal clarity. In my opinion, they have a constantly, ever-evolving relationship with Him which those who've only spent a few minutes with Him often don't have.

Those who do hear Him with that frequency and clarity often display three characteristics:

1. They Turn Their Back on Satan


"Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Matthew 4:10) and "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men" (Matthew 16:23) are phrases commonly thought and uttered by those who seem to hear Christ well. They have no problem with casting Satan out of their homes and offices (my friend Mike Stroud gave an excellent podcast on this subject here). They prioritize immersing themselves in His word, and do what they can to ensure a wholesome environment, like playing inspirational, uplifting music -- the frequencies of which add light, life and love. In so doing, they take refuge in His word and in His holy name, ensuring a shield of righteousness around them:

Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.

The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.

For our shield belongs to the LORD, And our king to the Holy One of Israel.

But You, O LORD, are a shield about me, My glory, and the One who lifts my head.


2. They Turn Their Heart to Jesus


"O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!
Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom’s paths!
Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.
O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth." (Helaman 12:4-7)

Simultaneous to their taking refuge in Jesus, and ensuring His status as their spiritual shield, is a concerted effort to rid themselves of sin and the elimination of anything and everything that stands between them and God.

These obstacles come in a thousand different forms. Some lesser-known -- but very poignant -- examples include:

Idolatry
"They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall." (D&C 1:16)
Those who hear Christ in their hearts and minds actively seek out and eradicate idols from their midst (to see a list of some definite possibilities, click here). This is often painful, because these idols are tremendously beguiling. And everybody loves them. So, it sets these people at odds with other family members, friends and co-workers who have little to no desire to do the same. Banish idols from your midst, and you very likely will end up feeling a lot more alone. That's OK, though; it's often in our "aloneness" that Jesus makes Himself a little more "obvious".

Destructiveness/Negativity

I'm only aware of two instances where the Lord was destructive/negative: His dealings with the Pharisees/Sadducees/Scribes (who had unrighteously assumed authority over the Church) and clearing out the temple (which had been allowed to be defiled by the Pharisees). Did He lash out at the Romans? Not that I'm aware. Of them, He said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34).

Today, I see a tremendous degree of negativity and destructiveness, especially online (often involving groups of hundreds or thousands of people, even church members), often by those who believe that said destructiveness/negativity is endorsed by none other than Jesus Himself. True, we are to warn our neighbor; no doubt about it! (D&C 88:81) But when we self-justify exceptions to His commandment "That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." (John 13:34), it's easy to run contrary to another injunction that we "follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another." (Romans14:19)

Self-Doubt
“As the showdown between good and evil approaches with its accompanying trials and tribulations, Satan is increasingly striving to overcome the Saints with despair, discouragement, despondency, and depression.” (Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, “Do Not Despair”, Oct. 1974 General Conference).
Boy do I know a lot about this obstacle. When I was on my mission, my first companion was what they called a "dead companion". He had almost no desire to proselyte and teach, even though he was very good at them. Just six hours of both activities in my first six months there. Now imagine for a minute being in a foreign country where you can't understand a written word, you can barely ask where the bathroom is, your parents aren't supportive of your mission and you know no one in your home ward. You're as enthusiastic a missionary as there ever was, and you're spending your first months in these circumstances. I felt beaten, broken, defeated. I honestly felt I had no one to turn to. Amidst the frustration, I did the only thing I knew I had left: I turned to God. I cried, begged and pleaded with Him. I remember telling Him, "I'm out here working for you. I've left my home, my family -- everything, and I mean everything -- for you. All I need is for you to just say hi. Say something. Please. Because you're all I've got left."  It was then that I heard, clear as a bell, my name ringing through my heart and mind. It was honestly like a bell had been rung. Then I was given a flood of images in my mind of different aspects of my life, all the while saying "I was with you during <this life event>. I was with you during <that life event>". It was undeniable who was talking to me and the feelings (of peace and enlightenment) I felt. Since that day, all those miles and years ago, I still remember that singular event which permanently changed me, like it was yesterday.

There have been some stellar talks and articles given over the years regarding self-doubt (here and here). But for me, there's only one way to know for sure that God exists, knows you and loves you, and that's to experience it first-hand.
“But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.
When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; … He will not forsake thee.” (Deut. 4:30–31; pleasealso see here)
There's one way -- and only one way -- to shed these spiritual barnacles off the hulls of our souls: To turn to God. In many cases, this requires repentance.

If I were Satan, and knew that repentance is a prime way of closing the distance between man and God, I would do everything possible to make it big and bad, difficult and demanding. I hope you don't fall for his trap.

Almost four years ago, I documented my search for what repentance is. I was surprised to learn that repentance is not suffering. It is not punishment. It isn't confession or remorsefulness, either. I replaced those words with others like shube and metaneoeo. I discovered a beautiful simplicity in repentance.
No matter if you know all about repentance or not, I invite you to discover -- or rediscover -- the true meaning of repentance. After re-reading these links, I have fortified my testimony that repentance is (or can be) highly motivating, inspiring, uplifting and can (by itself) trigger some touching, sincere, understanding, non-judgmental conversations with God:
"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:6-7; emphasis mine)
This is not only Isaiah's testimony to the world, but mine as well. I've lived it. I've experienced it. And because of His infinite mercy, I've been overwhelmingly blessed because of it.

Thinking of Others Ahead of Yourself


In June, 1829, both John Whitmer and Peter Whitmer, Jr became deeply concerned over the matter of their individual duty (see D&C14 Introduction). The Lord's answer to both was synonymous and brief:
"For many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you. And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father. Amen." (D&C 15: 4,6; 16:4,6)
I don't think the Lord wanted these two sections included in the D&C just to fill up some space. No. I believe He included them because that would be His message to you, today, as well. Because the Lord isn't known for His changeability (3 Nephi 24:6), I think it's a safe assumption that these verses apply to you as well.

I've always believed that if you want to grab heaven's attention, pray about others. If you want to solutions to your problems, seek to help others discover solutions to their problems. In a previous blog post, I posited "Why Your Efforts to Part the Veil May Be Failing". My conclusion was simple: One of the reasons why the veil isn't parting for us is because we're thinking of ourselves, not others. When you turn your back on Satan, and eliminate the idols and sin which separate you from God, you really are making efforts to put God first in your life. That's the First Great Commandment. When you seek after the welfare of others, there's the Second Great Commandment.


Putting It All Together: Two Blog Readers' Personal Experiences


But I suppose the real test of what I've said in this blog post, and this five-part series, is what effect it's had on others' relationships with Jesus. Here are two emails from blog readers (used with their permission):
"When I heard people talk in church about having a 'personal relationship' with Jesus, I had no idea what they were talking about. I didn't understand how you could have a relationship with someone you can't see or hear.  I've been your average spiritually-asleep church member almost my entire life.  When I 'awoke' and learned that other everyday church members were hearing His voice and having conversations with Him, I knew immediately that I wanted that type of relationship with Him, and had absolute confidence that it could happen to me too.  I turned myself more and more toward Him, yearning to hear and converse with Him.  I had many one-sided conversations with Him while running, during the day, and driving around in the car.  My thoughts changed to the extent where I was focused on my spiritual desires a large percentage of the day. Sometimes it was frustrating because I didn't have any sense that anyone was listening.  But I kept at it. 
One night I woke up in the middle of the night and had a hard time falling asleep again because I was worrying about something.  As I was laying in bed thinking, I suddenly heard my name very clearly in my mind.  I was very surprised.  My previous thoughts had had nothing to do with my name, and I was pretty sure the voice wasn't the same voice I associate with my own thoughts.  'That... was not me!!!' I realized.  'That.... was Jesus?!!'  I quickly called out to Him in my mind, thinking of Samuel's boyhood experience.  No response.  I wondered if I was dreaming, but I was pretty sure I was awake, even opening my eyes to verify it.  Soon afterwards, I finally fell asleep. 
Since then, it's been witnessed to me that that was indeed the Lord's voice who spoke to me that night. It was the greatest day of my entire life, the single most amazing thing that has ever happened to me.  Jesus spoke to ME!  He knew my name!  I had gone from having strong faith in Him to feeling like I absolutely KNEW He was there and that He was aware of me and my righteous desires.  I felt like if I could hear His voice, I could accomplish anything He wanted. I had done my best to draw near unto Him, and He was reciprocating.  My life has never been the same since then.  If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone who pays the price."
This other account happened within the walls of a temple:
"I again want to thank you for your insights in these latest blog posts!  This approach has very literally opened up the avenue for personal revelation and interaction with the Lord in ways that were greatly lacking for a long time!  As a testimony to that, I just want to share this tender experience which I had tonight. 
As I finished some of my assignments within the <location> temple tonight, I found myself with about 50 minutes before needing to be anywhere.  So I slipped quietly into the empty chapel to simply spend some uninterrupted time with the Lord in His house. 
I sat on the back row of benches and cleared my mind, inviting the Lord to be with me.  I thanked Him for the priceless opportunity to be in His house to spend time with Him and participate in the eternally important work which occurs there.  I imagined Him sitting next to me on the bench so that we could talk like old friends. 
As I sat pondering about what I felt impressed to converse with Him about, I began thinking about the importance of a person’s name.  I thought of how when the Lord spoke to the young prophet Joseph Smith and called him by name, how much meaning that must have conveyed to Joseph, just to hear his name spoken by God.  The same could be said for any of the prophets in the scriptures.  I had the impression that when the Lord calls you by name, there is a deep and significant meaning behind its use, which conveys His feelings towards you as an individual. 
As I sat thinking about the importance of a name, I considered all of the many names and titles the Lord has.  Some of these might include: Jesus, Jehovah, Yeshua, the Lord, the Christ, the Prince of Peace and countless other names, all of which describe him accurately in some way.  But I felt impressed to ask Him as part of my personal conversation with Him, “What is the name you prefer the most, Lord?”  “Of all the many names and titles you have, do you have one which you love or prefer to be called above the others?  This way I will know what I should call you that will convey my love to you.” 
I received no specific response to this question, but it served to at least open my personal conversation with Him. 
I next began to thank Him for the wonderful opportunity I had this past weekend to go and spend some time with <family members>, and to participate in the blessing of <family member>.  Even thinking about how I felt around the precious young souls of <family member> and <family member> made my heart swell with love.  I thanked the Lord for how precious those feelings were to me.  In response came the sweet and tender impression, “That is how I feel about you!”  This answer warmed my heart to consider. 
I next pondered about the love of Heavenly Father and Mother, and thought about how I can envision the Lord and through Him, have a glimpse of what Father must be like, but I considered in my heart, “But what is Mother like?”  In response came the reply, “She is very much like all of the divine qualities you see and love in your own dear wife.”   This reply felt so natural and correct, and not only helped deepen my understanding of Heavenly Mother, but also gave me a deeper and greater affection for my lovely wife and the potential of what she will someday become.  (When I shared these impressions with my wife later that evening, she was deeply impacted and moved to tears). 
Trying to shift things away from my own thoughts and questions, I then asked the Lord, “What was the best part of your day today?”  The simple and quick reply was, “Spending this time with you!”  I considered all the eternally significant things He was involved with all the time and replied, “I can’t imagine that with all you have going on, that spending a few minutes with me would be the best thing in your day.”  His answer was a quick and gentle rebuke, but one filled with love and encouragement, “That is where your faith is still lacking!  That is your veil of unbelief!” 
I was humbled and quickly asked for forgiveness for doubting in His love for me.  I expressed how I longed to be with Him and to have the faith to put aside such doubts and believe how much He truly desired to be with me and have a personal relationship with me. 
I asked Him what I could do to deepen that relationship and connection with Him.  The reply came, “Show more sincere interest in others around you and be truly concerned about their well-being.  That is how you will draw closer unto me, because that is how you will become more like me.  And as you become more like me in this way, you will see as you are seen and know as you are known.” 
These simple and profound insights and revelations came quietly, yet profoundly, as I simply took some time to be with the Lord and converse with Him through the eye of faith…in the temple. 
I can’t tell you how much this simple concept has profoundly impacted opening the heavens and making a connection to divine insight and truth.  For much of my life, I have offered prayers that felt as if they were unanswered, which were lists, asking for blessings and seeking for answers to things that were important to me according to what I wanted.  Many times, I felt the heavens were closed during these attempts and the answers were hard to come by.  But this new approach of having a more personal conversation with the Lord, trying to envision Him not far away in heaven, but near me and wanting to talk to me, has made so much difference in just the past few weeks! 
These experiences are a testimony to me that not only does the Lord want to have a closer and more personal relationship and interactions with us, but that He is actually near us all the time.  We literally are His primary concern, His work and His glory.  And this concept reminds me of a quote, by A. W. Tozer, which I have long loved and am now striving to actually believe,

“An infinite God can give all of Himself to each of His children. 
He does not distribute Himself so that each may have a part,
but to each He gives all of Himself as fully as if there were no others.” 
I pray that I may continue to develop this faith, belief and my relationship with Him, until it becomes a literal reality in His own time, and in His own perfect, divine way!"
I couldn't have put it better myself.

Lorenzo Snow said that it is the “grand privilege of every Latter-day Saint … to have the manifestations of the spirit every day of our lives [so] that we may know the light, and not be groveling continually in the dark” (in Conference Report, April 1899, 52).

Can you find Him? Yes...when you seek Him with all your heart and all your soul. Can you hear His voice? Yes. I have, and others have as well.

I close this series (grateful for, and) seconding not only my friends' witnesses, but also Moroni's (note the usage of the word "when", not "if":
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen." (Moroni 7:48)