There’s so much work to do each day
And all will discover with some dismay—
That life’s not a walk, it’s an all-out run,
And when it seems over, it’s just begun!
There’s the list of don’ts and the list of do’s—
So many choices from which to choose,
So many priorities demanding time;
It’s an exhausting, trying, striving climb.
And every traveler who comes this way
Quickly learns there’s not time each day
To complete each task, to complete each deed,
To fill every void, and to fill every need.
So if there are things that won’t be done,
What then is your “Priority One”?
Is it church? Is it work? Is it family?
Of all the choices, what should it be?
Then from those who are clearly winning the race,
Who have found their stride and found their pace;
They are sharing the answer; oh, will you hear it?
It is simple—yet hard—just follow the Spirit.
This church demands a lot from us. I am reminded of the quote from Joseph Smith, “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” While I agree with the quote, the day-to-day application of that principle can be so overwhelming. I don’t know which list is longer, the list of “Thou Shalt”s or the list of “Thou Shalt Not”s.
Just look at the “Thou Shalt”s. If there was a 14th article of faith it might say, “We believe in doing our home teaching, visiting teaching, planting a garden, preserving the produce, building a food storage program, learning to use and rotate said food storage program, looking after the widows, helping neighbors move in, helping neighbors move out, meals after a baby is born, meals after someone dies, meals for anytime in between, doing genealogy and family history work, doing missionary work, going to the temple, paying a full tithe, eating healthy, getting proper exercise, maintaining house and yard, service in the church and community, doing our duty to God, getting our Eagle scout or Young Woman medallion, seeking after and developing our talents, having family home evening, having family prayer, having family scripture study, having personal prayer and scripture study, having companionship prayer and scripture study, having family councils, strengthening marriage and family, getting married, having a family, and the list goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on. . .you get the picture.
Oh, and by the way, did I mention that you still have to fit in work and school and paying the bills, and trips to the doctor’s office and the grocery store and all the other mortal necessities too? Sometimes it can all seem so overwhelming that you don’t even want to get out of bed in the morning! But, then, that too would be a sin because God said, “Cease to be idle. . .; cease to sleep longer than is needful” (D&C 88:124) and “be anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:27), none of which can be completed by sleeping our lives away!
So what is the answer? I have learned that the answer comes from the vision of the tree of life. When Nephi had the vision, he tells us he saw a “rod of iron. . .which led to the fountain of living waters, or the tree of life” (1 Nephi 11:25). From the hymn we remember that “the iron rod is the word of God”. Until recently, I equated the iron rod and the word of God to the scriptures, words of the modern day prophets, and maybe my patriarchal blessing.
While all these are correct answers, they are incomplete and NOT even the most important. The most important word of God is the word He speaks personally and directly to me through His Holy Spirit. It is THIS word of God that enabled Nephi to get the brass plates being “led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do” (1Nephi 4:6). It was THIS word of God “by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground” (D&C 8:3) And it is THIS word of God that Nephi says “will tell you all things what ye should do” (2Nephi 32:3). It is THIS Spirit of God that will help you focus and prioritize. It is THIS Spirit that will tell you of all the things you can be doing, what things you should be doing today.
Please let me offer a voice of caution. This notion of following the Spirit does not mean we wait around doing nothing until we feel inspired, for we are agents meant to act, and should do many things of our own free will (D&C 58:27). Rather, learning to live an inspired life requires more commitment to learning how the spirit speaks to us and how to identify it over false voices and voices of the world. And then we must obey, obey, obey. As we do so, Nephi promises that “whoso [will] hearken unto the word of God and hold fast unto it, they [will] never perish; neither [can] the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction” (1Nephi 15:24).
As we seek, listen, and follow the Spirit in our lives, what He speaks to us personally “shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation” (D&C 68:4). Isn’t it interesting, that even if we mastered the lists of “Thou Shalt”s and “Thou Shalt Not”s, exaltation is only possible for those who learn to take the Holy Spirit as their personal guide. From Nephi to Moroni, the common thread weaved throughout the entire Book of Mormon is just that: listen and obey. This is the defining quest of mortality.
I also think it is important to remember the council from King Benjamin, “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order” (Mosiah 4:27) God knows what we are capable of. He knows our strengths and weakness and limitations. He knows our health and wellbeing. Through His Spirit He will tell us what is most important right now. He will tell us if we could and should be doing more. He will tell us if we are doing too much.
I remember hearing a story several years ago from a man who attended an important meeting that President Monson was to lead. There were many people assembled and the meeting start time came and went with no President Monson. Eventually, the Prophet arrived and apologized for his tardiness but said something to the effect, “My wife needed me this morning.” With all the important and pressing responsibilities President Monson had, he knew what was most important in that moment because he had spent a lifetime learning to seek, listen, and obey.
So it can be for us. As we strive to listen and obey the Spirit’s voice, we can feel assured that we are accomplishing the most important things, that we are completing our foreordained missions, and that we are on the right path. We can “run with patience the race that is se before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:1-2). And we can one day say with Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7)
Just remember, in this race you don’t need running shoes; you need hearing aids.
Written: June 20, 2016