God is love

How do you feel when you feel God’s love for you?

Can you feel it right now?

If you can’t, would you consider opening up your heart, at this very moment, and allowing Heavenly Father to help you feel the love He has for you?

That desire, wanting to feel His love, is supposed to be at the center of all we do.  It is the source of all pure motivation.  When we feel it, we often want to feel more of it, and wish we could be closer to Him to be able to.

Wanting to feel His love, to be close to Him, is how we worship Him.  His love is celestial and it has a name.  It’s called charity.  It is God’s pure love.  It flows outward from Him to all that will receive it.  It is a one-to-many kind of love; it is expansive, and is represented in the scriptures by fruit:

“Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And [Nephi] answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.  And [the Spirit] spake unto [Nephi], saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.” (1 Nephi 11:21-23)

If our lives are full of exasperation or frustration or resentment about our kids or boring meetings or tithing or all the other often difficult aspects of our religion, maybe its because we aren’t doing them because we love God, but for some other telestial reason.

Charity has an enemy.  It has a telestial substitute that involves worship of a completely different type.  This counterfeit has the ability to consume all our motivations and actions.  It is self-worship, and occurs within the confines of the natural man.  It seeks to satisfy the lusts of the flesh.  In terms of love, its principle ambition is to be admired, or worshipped, by others.  It is a deceitful love based on a fiction we maintain regarding what we think others think of us.  It is the complete opposite of God’s love.  Its principle activity consists of repeatedly asking and answering the question, “What do others think about me?”  It is represented in the scriptures by a building:

“And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men.” (1 Nephi 12:18)

The great choice that faces each of us each and every day, in every single decision, is whether we will worship God or self.  More importantly, the great decision comes down to which one we WANT to worship.  God will force no man or woman to heaven; it has to be our choice.  The great risk is that we pursue a telestial path while believing it is a celestial one because we have unwittingly mingled just enough of the philosophies of men with scripture so as to not know the difference.

The natural man is an enemy to God because it seeks to exalt itself; self-worship is its principle objective. As mentioned before, it subsists on offerings of pleasure and perceived importance. It is offended by anything or anyone else that competes for pre-eminence. Its favorite pastime is the creation and maintenance of elaborate fictions that reinforce that perceived pre-eminence. Those fictions are referred to in the scriptures as “vain imaginations.”  I’m not writing these things because I don’t commit this sin.  I’m explaining this because it is a problem that I recognize is keeping me from God.

Who is it you desire to impress?  Whose validation do you crave? Who do you want to worship you?

When you try on an article of clothing at a store, monitor your thoughts closely. When you imagine yourself wearing that thing, who is it that you imagine reacting positively to your new acquisition? That is who you are trying to impress.

When you practice sports (think basketball or golf, for example), what is it you imagine in your mind’s eye? Who is it that casts an approving (if not adoring) look in your direction when you imagine yourself being successful? That is who you hope to impress.

When you imagine wearing an expensive piece of jewelry or driving an expensive car or telling a successful joke or earning an advanced degree or owning an impressive house or delivering an engaging talk (my particular challenge at the moment), who is it that you imagine will think positively about you? That is the person or group you hope to impress. Why do you want that person (or those people) to think fondly of, to adore, to worship you? Because that’s what the natural man craves.

The natural man does not need truth. Fiction is preferable because it is 100% manageable. I can pretend all day long that those around me think me smart, handsome, funny, talented, spiritual, or anything else I want and nobody can stop me. Simply imagining them adoring me is enough to fuel my natural man indefinitely. Well, almost indefinitely. At some point I will realize that no matter how hard I try, I cannot control another’s perception of me. True superiority in any particular aspect of comparison (intelligence, good looks, sense of humor, or any other) is as likely to invoke resentment and jealousy as it is praise or worship. The game is up as soon as I realize that all of them–all those people I’ve been working so hard to impress–are all natural men too. They spend their time imagining others worshiping them. They don’t have time to worship me because they are too busy worshipping themselves. Just like me.

As the facade of the natural man crumbles under scrutiny, we are left with two options: retrench and “spend [more] money for that which is of no worth,” and “labor [even harder] for that which cannot satisfy,” or give up and admit our utter hopelessness and helplessness (2 Nephi 9:51). Once I come to myself and recognize that I am a broken down mess of a being, and that the darkness and frustration inherent in worshipping myself can be immediately replaced with real Light and Truth and Love by turning my worship toward the God of light and truth and love, hope streams into my heart and I see light at the end of the tunnel. He–and only He–can save me from myself.

“And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men.” (1 Nephi 12:18)

It is the allure of the great and spacious building that caused those who had partaken of the fruit to be ashamed.  Their natural man told them they were foolish to give up satisfying the lusts of the natural man to pursue the love of God.  And so they gave in.  Do you ever secretly feel like the rest of the world is getting away with having fun sinning?  If so, you’ve either got a room in the large and spacious building or are trying to figure out how to get one.  The great and spacious building is a metaphor; a monument to self-indulgence and our completely fictitious self worship.  It is the great deterrent to allowing God’s love into our hearts.

Once we see ourselves in our lost and fallen state, and come to realize that Jesus is our only way out, we become humble enough to allow God’s love into our life.  And then that love begins to change us.  Recognizing, then craving His love, is the beginning of His work to change our hearts.

“Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.” (Hel. 3:35)

As He fills us with His love, and light, and truth, we begin to reflect that light to others.  Charity, the pure love of Christ, changes us so that we want what God wants.  When we are full of His love, and only then, can we truly love others as we reflect His love to them.  Without charity, we can do many “right” things (like prayer or scripture reading or home teaching of going to church) but they will be for the wrong reasons, and they will mean absolutely nothing.

“For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.  For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.  For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.  And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.” (Moroni 7:6-9)

Only when we are filled with charity can we do things with real intent of heart.  Only when we truly want, above all else, what God has to offer, which is His love, will we begin to worship him with “real intent of heart.”  If we don’t really want the one thing He offers us, we will never draw close to Him.  If we want His blessings, but not His love, we don’t really want Him.

It is not our goodness that brings us close to God; it is our desire to be filled with His love.  The prophet Joseph taught, “the righteousness of man is sin.”  By that I think he meant that if we try to work righteousness on our own, that is without charity, we may appear righteous, but it will be to impress others, and it will be inherently sinful.  As Jesus said, “They have their reward.” (see Matthew 6)

Once we taste of His love for us, we stop resenting the imperfect beings around us and begin to feel sadness that anybody would pursue a life without God on this earth.  Our hearts ache for children who lose their way not because we are embarrassed of what others will think about our poor parenting, but because we know they are far from the only path that will bring them true peace and happiness.  With charity, there is no reason for anger, only sadness that they refuse the greatest happiness available anywhere.

When we recognize that we are nothing without Him then we become humble enough to receive His love.  It is at this point that the greater gospel blessings begin to pour into our lives:

“And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.  If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.” (Moroni 7:43-44)

If we want to focus on one thing it should be humility.  It is the “gateway” virtue that unlocks faith, hope, and charity.  It is humility and obedience to the whisperings of the spirit that bring us into communion with God.  But if we’re too busy making ourselves into something great in our own minds, we will have no need for our Father’s love.

We begin to see fruits of His love as our desires change.  Rather than our natural, selfish desires, we can feel the work of transformation begin.  We start to become new beings through Christ.  We become like Him because His love changes us.  And this is what we will start to see:

“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.  Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7:45-47)

Like all other good things, charity is a gift, bestowed by a loving Father when we truly want it above all else and ask for it in prayer:

“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)

We can’t draw near to God if we don’t understand what He offers us.  We won’t draw near to God if we don’t want what He offers us.  What He offers is His love.

The great question we face is whether we will seek God’s love and worship Him, or seek to love and worship ourselves.

If there is anything good that comes of the time you have spent reading this, it will not be because of the words I have written, but because you made a conscious and willful decision to open your heart to God and seek to feel His love for you.  If you open, He will fill.  He will change.  He will purify.  He will love.  Always.  That we may be like Him, in and through His son Jesus Christ, our Savior, and Redeemer.

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