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Thursday, July 30, 2015

6 Ways to Just Keep Swimming

Latter-day Saints (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) are aware that we are living in the last days before the second coming of the Lord.  With the increased level of opposition in the lives of the faithful, it can be very easy to get bored with the gospel, feel social, mental, spiritual or physical fatigue from trying so hard or even find our perspectives severely at odds with God's counsel from His prophets.  I'm been in all three spots so I can relate to any of them, although to a different degree in each.  I'm sure there are more reasons why people have a hard time continuing to endure spiritually.

When I was serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I got into a pretty deep depression.  I called my Mission President's wife, Sister Ashton, and asked her for advice.  She reminded me of the part in Finding Nemo where Dori says "just keep swimming, just keep swimming..." and told me, "Elder Pulsipher, you gotta 'just keep swimming'."  She said much more than that but she was able to help quite a bit that day.  But with so many distractions in the world today and Satan working so hard to derail disciples of Christ, how do we get back up and go with enthusiasm and zeal for the Lord's work when we feel the most stagnant?  Bear with me, this is one of my longer entries.

Below I offer 6 ways to, as Sister Ashton and Dori remind us, "Just Keep Swimming."

1. Go out of your comfort zone.

And I don't just mean something that just feels a little different or takes you out of your normal routine.  I mean do something that takes you so far out of your comfort zone it scares you!  Well, make sure the Lord would condone it first.  Maybe get some ideas here?  Either way, the only way truly soul building change and strength takes place is when we go that far out of our comfort zones.  That's where the magic happens.  So go out and don't just sit around wondering how to feel the fire of the Spirit again, go out and act!  Do something about it!

2. Pray more earnestly.

I've referenced so many of my articles, at some point, to Jack R. Christianson's "The Mortal Christ" so many times that my frequent readers are probably getting bored of it, but there is so much in it worth repeating over and over that I'm doing it again.  From his talk "Let's go to Luke 22 while we're talking about prayer. May I ask you as you study the scriptures, that you include this? But what's the first thing when spiritual malnutrition is starts to take place that is lost? What do we stop doing, the very first thing? We quit praying, generally. Wouldn't you agree? Because you don't feel worthy to pray and besides that you're embarrassed sometimes if you're sinning especially. Now, let's learn from the Mortal Christ, shall we? He's in the Garden of Gethsemane – verse 44 – “and being in agony...” how did He pray? He prayed more earnestly... when you get discouraged and say dumb things like we all say like “it's not worth it”, “I'm so sick of trying to be so good. I'll just be like everybody else”, “everyone that wicked gets rich”. Ever hear that one? “What difference does it make?” Well you need to repent, you need the atonement for that []. Now, He prayed how when He was in agony? More earnestly.

He didn't shake His fist at His Father and He didn't quit praying. What did He do? He prayed harder! He prayed more sincerely! Somewhere along the line, brothers and sisters, we gotta quit saying prayers and pray! Does that make sense? We ought to be the safest people on the planet earth! Every meeting: “Please bless when the time comes we'll travel home in safety” and that's a good prayer. And you do need to keep praying because we all need to be safe. And here's another one, “Please bless the food that it will nourish and strengthen our bodies and do us the good that we need.” We ought to NEVER be poisoned! And that's a good prayer, but it's not going to help you if you're struggling with pornography, is it? And it's not going to help you if you're struggling with chastity and virtue or personal degrading habits. We've got to learn to pray!"

Well, after that quote... 'Nuff said, right? Wrong.  What is Jack trying to get at here?  What he's telling us is the same thing that President Eyring said in 2005: "As the challenges around us increase, we must commit to do more to qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Casual prayer won’t be enough. Reading a few verses of the scripture won’t be enough. Doing the minimum of what the Lord asks of us won’t be enough. Hoping that we will have the Atonement work in our lives and that we will perhaps sometimes feel the influence of the Holy Ghost won’t be enough. And one great burst of effort won’t be enough."

Our prayers have got to continually become more earnest, more focused on virtuous things, more humble, more faith filled, more in depth and more honest.  Because praying just to pray is never going to put you where you want to be eternally speaking.  Our prayers have to be something that permanently change us and irreversibly improve our relationship with God.

3. Look outside of yourself.

I asked God a while ago - I think it must be close to a year ago now (this was written back in July 2015) - to make me selfless, I mean totally selfless, to use my talents and gifts with no other thought in mind than blessing my family and anyone else I could on this planet.  Wow, did He ever respond.  He's been working with me and I've seen moreso than ever before the benefits of focusing on and being happy with simply making others happy and inspiring others for the glory of our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ and for no other reason.  I've learned in this process (though I still have a ways to go, of course), from my own experience that the more you seek to do good for others with not even a shadow of seeking for something from it, people LOVE you for it!  This may seem like a bit of an irony to some, but it's true and it's a beautiful irony.  If you want to become happier look outside of yourself more.  Go serve someone, pay those last few bucks on the grocery bill for the person in front of you in line, help that guy who claims he's alright but is limping a bit toward his car, go pick up trash along the side of the road for an hour, strategically place a $10 or $20 bill on a car that looks like it's owner could use a few extra bucks or anything else that gives something significant of yourself.  Make it something you never do.  Do it often.  You'll feel better, trust me.  After all, Jesus Christ spent His life doing what?  He went about doing good everywhere He went!

4. Go back to basics.

Likely one of the biggest reasons people get caught up in trivialities and other distractions that lead them away from the Lord's church is by going out too much of doctrinal "twigs".  Going out on limbs like this on the tree of the gospel isn't always a bad thing as long as it strengthens your testimony of Jesus Christ, His atonement and His role as our Savior and Redeemer.  If it doesn't directly do that you shouldn't be going there.  The gospel of Christ is simply beautiful and beautifully simple.  The most basic simple doctrines of the kingdom are the ones that will save us.  Knowing whether or not we will eat meat in the millennium will have absolutely no effect on whether or not we will recognize the Savior when He comes again.  Neither will knowing every last detail of the life of Joseph Smith or knowing more about the Book of Mormon than every scholar alive or seeing angels or memorizing the entirety of the Doctrine and Covenants or figuring out how the Savior travels through time or having a perfect record of every financial detail of the church.  None of that is ever going to be as paramount as having solid faith in the power of the atonement.  None of it will ever be as beneficial to your soul as the process of repentance.  None of it can possibly speak to and give peace to your heart the way the Holy Ghost will when you study the standard works and general conference talks.  None of it will result in having your needs met like paying your tithing and a generous fast offer willingly.  It just won't.

If you want to have your faith renewed over and over again, have it renewed in the most important things, the basics.

Vince Lombardi's football team, when he started coaching, went from a huge loosing streak to winning the first two superbowls by going right back to the basics of "This is a football", "This is a football field".

This video is also helpful as well in illustrating this concept.

5. Follow the prophet

Did you know that, when we raise our hands to the square during General Conference to sustain our church leaders, we are actually making a full fledged, eternally binding covenant?  Well, you are.  It is just as binding of a covenant as baptism, the sacrament, or temple covenants.  We a literally covenanting with God that we will sustain the church leaders, follow their counsel even when we disagree or don't understand why they ask us to do something, for as the Lord Himself said "What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."

Experience of my own has taught me that the rewards of following the prophet, without seeing how close to the edge we can go before being unworthy of a temple recommend, is God's grace is upon us.  When we focus more on how good we can be instead of how good we have to be, the world around us changes, not because of anything surrounding us, but because our ability to see the world as God does has increased.  We do not see the world as it is, we see it as we are.  So following the counsel of God's prophets willingly, happily and deliberately will help us see ourselves as we really are, children of God with infinite potential.  We will see that we need not seek for the world's approval, but only our Eternal Father's approval.  Besides, the things worth doing the most in this world are often those things recognized by God alone.  Following His prophets and seeking to go above and beyond in an attitude of "how good can I be?" is something you'll never regret.

6. Use sacrament meeting effectively.

A full time missionary told me (don't quote me directly on this one) that his Mission President told him that when the First Presidency was meeting to declare a theme for general church membership this year (again, 2015), they decided to make it about keeping the Sabbath Day Holy and focusing more on making it Holy, especially the sacrament.  Why?  Well I can't give any reasons as a fact because I wasn't there when they made that decision, but I do know that, when I am completely focused on my Savior and where I stand with in my spiritual progression with Him, I get the answers I always need right at the time I need them.  To those who struggle with coming to sacrament meeting at all for reasons you can help (come on now, be brutally honest with yourself), I can promise you from my own experience that as soon as you make a commitment to never miss a sacrament meeting again (unless you are dying in the hospital or something like that), your life will start to get exponentially better.  It will get even better even faster when you go far beyond just attending sacrament meeting but coming with your hand off to the top of your proverbial spiritual cup (see Psalms 23:5) and just let the Lord fill it up with what He will, regardless of whether you think you need it or not, even greater things will happen; and they will not stop happening so long as you continue that habit.

So go to sacrament meeting, go into the chapel, go straight to a seat, sit down quietly, turn off that stinking phone, iPad or other mobile device off - I mean powered off completely - put it down and open a hard copy of the scriptures or a hymn book or meditate or pray (remember above?).  Keep your thoughts focused on gratitude for and faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and the gift He gave you to have a chance to choose, to change, to repent, to have divine strength assist you, to have immortality and eternal life.  It will be refreshing.  It will do something for your heart and soul.  It will make you a little better, or maybe even a lot better, of a person, a little more confident and peaceful about God's plan for you and what lies ahead.
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There are obviously so many other things that will help you "just keep swimming" in the gospel, but, from my experience, these are 6 of the most useful things I can think of that will help you stay zealous, happy, anxiously engaged in a good cause and peaceful about the gospel of Christ, God's plan for His children.

Sometimes it can be hard to deal with the pressures and persecution we get from the world for trying so hard.  True disciples of Christ are called every name in the book, taken advantage of, treated as deranged paranoids and more.  Elder Hales, in October 2008, recounted one member of the church asking "Why doesn’t the Church defend itself more actively when accusations are made against it?", part of his response to this question was

"More regrettable than the Church being accused of not being Christian is when Church members react to such accusations in an un-Christlike way! May our conversations with others always be marked by the fruits of the Spirit—“love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance” (Galatians 5:22–23) ... This is especially important in our interactions with members of other Christian denominations. Surely our Heavenly Father is saddened—and the devil laughs—when we contentiously debate doctrinal differences with our Christian neighbors. This is not to suggest that we compromise our principles or dilute our beliefs. We cannot change the doctrines of the restored gospel, even if teaching and obeying them makes us unpopular in the eyes of the world. Yet even as we feel to speak the word of God with boldness, we must pray to be filled with the Holy Ghost (see Acts 4:29, 31). We should never confuse boldness with Satan’s counterfeit: overbearance (see Alma 38:12). True disciples speak with quiet confidence, not boastful pride."

Christ is coming soon, very soon.  Whatever you do, whatever method you use to keep yourself not only afloat, but soaring towards celestial glory, don't stop, don't give up (except when it's appropriate to do so), don't allow yourself to get complacent.  Courageously and adamantly, but yet also meekly and kindly, act in faith and defend faith in Jesus Christ.  The rewards are there for the taking, we just have to live so that we are ready for them when they come.