||Commitment to God
Deer Park, WA,
Not long ago in his First Presidency message, President Uchtdorf told a story about two brothers deciding whether to jump from a cliff into the water below. They both hesitate for a moment before one brother leaps into the air followed shortly by the other. President Uchtdorf said that "Commitment is a little like diving into the water. Either you are committed or you are not. Either you are moving forward or you are standing still. Thereβs no halfway." He went on to declare that nothing can be more important than keeping a commitment we have made to the Lord.
There are few lessons in life that we can learn that are more important than this. I've spent many hours reflecting and praying for guidance on the issue. How does one become more committed and demonstrate one's commitment to God? Unfortunately, there is no formula for how commitment to God should be expressed. I suppose we could prescribe a certain length of time in prayer, study, and service, but we are all different, and our needs are also different. Our relationship with God goes through different seasons and strategies from year to year.
So what is right for one is not necessarily right for another. One's commitment to God is not a mechanical device that comes off an assembly line, every motor working exactly the way that every other motor does. We are not mechanical beings β we are human beings, and that makes the job much harder, more challenging.
I find it difficult to figure myself out at times, and I certainly can't prescribe a formula for anyone else. We can see that the ingredients of spiritual success do include prayer, scripture study, and helping other people, but we cannot prescribe the same formula for everyone. For one thing, we have different positions to play. We cannot expect a pitcher to practice in the same way that the second baseman does.
In our commitment to God, we all engage in prayer and scripture study and involvement with the church, but we do it in different ways, according to our different spiritual gifts and our different responsibilities and our different stages in spiritual development. So a precise formula can't really be given β it is up to each of us to develop our own game plan, and to keep examining ourselves to see how the game plan needs to be changed from time to time.
As part of this lesson on commitment to God, I could go on at length about Scripture study and prayer. I suspect most everyone thinks they need to do more prayer and more scripture study. I do not need to convince anyone of that, nor do I think that I would be effective if I tried to get someone to do more of something they already want to do more of.
We have multiple commitments. We want to be committed to family, to church, to personal growth, to community, and to worship. All these commitments are good, but they are not equally good.
Sometimes our commitment to family comes before church, and sometimes our commitment to the church comes before family. Sometimes we have to set aside our scripture study to take care of community concerns; sometimes we have to skip the community thing and spend time in the scriptures. The balance is constantly changing and needs constant monitoring to see what we need to do at each particular moment.
As President Uchtdorf declares, there is one commitment that always takes priority, that should never be compromised, and that is commitment to God. This should come before all other commitments β and in fact it is because we are committed to God that we want to keep our commitments in all the other areas. Commitment to God is the foundation for all the others, for why we do them, and it our commitment to God that helps us to be more successful in managing our multiple other commitments.
What are the obstacles to our commitment to God?
Time - We have only so many minutes in each day. We have families that expect more out of us, jobs that expect more out of us, economies that expect more out of us, and a 100 different charities that expect more out of us. We have machines that save us time and machines that waste our time. We have electronics that add to our stress and electronics that are supposed to help us unwind.
And then we have to spend time trying to fix the things that are supposed to save us time, and we have to spend time paying for the stuff that's supposed to save us time. We have to keep up with more than one career, and we have to pay for a place to live.
We have a 100 different things to do β and that's just counting the good things!
Satan - The enemy has two strategies to keep us away from God: he can tempt us with evil, or he can distract us with things that are merely good. If we spend all our time on good activities, perhaps we won't ever draw close to God. If we always choose second-best, we are doing very good, yet we are still sinful because we have not chosen the most important thing, and that's God.
So we must take control of our schedules, to say no to perfectly good activities for the simple reason that we have something even more important to do. Every time I say "yes" to one thing, I am saying "no" to something else. So I need to choose my yes'es more wisely, to make sure that there is room for God in my life. My commitments to family and job and community must come from God, rather than crowding him out.
Mammon - Don't get me wrong. Money can be good. It can be used for good things. It can help us serve our families. It can help the church do its work. But it is so helpful that it is also tempting, distracting, and deceitful.
That money we work for, is it really to help us serve others, or is it to serve ourselves? All that time that we put in, what's it really for?
That is a key question, because the money that was earned for one purpose is often so easily spent for another. We are still in control. The money is easily re-routed for something else, and we say to ourselves that we'll just earn some more. But at that point, the money is already controlling us, and we are serving it.
Earlier, when I said the word Mammon, a scripture probably came to your minds. It was Matthew 6, verse 24. "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve both God and Mammon."
So, how does a person serve Mammon? Do we bow down before it and take care of its needs? Is money a weak and needy god that needs the help of strong and powerful us?
No β it's exactly the opposite. We serve money when we think it will take care of our needs. When it comes to worship, the word "serve" takes on a different meaning than it usually does. We serve money if we look to IT to take care of our needs.
In the same way, we don't serve God because he needs our help. We don't serve him because we have the power to help him. Rather, we serve God by looking to him for the help that we need. We serve him and praise him when we see him as the power to fulfill our real needs. When we spend time looking to him, that shows he has value, that he is valuable to us, that we treasure him.
Notice that I did not say that we are seeking the stuff that God gives. We are seeking God himself β not to possess him, but to be with him. Our ultimate desire should not be material stuff that will someday rot away β our ultimate desire should be a friendship with the eternal God.
With a friend like that, everything else will be taken care of. That's Matthew 6:33 β "but seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all other things will be added unto you."
This idea is also found in John 4, where Jesus is speaking to the woman at the well, and he says, "But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." He is talking about a thirst, an internal desire, that is fully satisfied in Jesus Christ.
We all have an inner desire for something, and that something is Jesus Christ, and our thirst can be satisfied in no other way than through him, and in him it can be fully satisfied. God satisfies in a way that nothing else does.
And until we find our satisfaction in him, our souls will thirst and we will be on a never-ending quest to fill a void in our lives. We might try to fill it with cars, or with booze, or with careers, or with money, all to no avail. When it is God that we need, nothing else can substitute.
And that is what commitment to God is. It is a recognition that he is what we need. He is the power β the only power β that can help us with our deepest and most permanent needs. God wants us to desire him, to seek him, to look for ultimate satisfaction in him. It doesn't get any better than him. With him, we can be content. With him, our souls have rest. That is what we were made for, and that is what we need.
Everything else will be brought into subordination to God. The commitments we make to our families will flow from our desire to honor God and do what he says. The commitments we make to the church will be made in that framework, in obedience and worship of God. The financial commitments we make will serve God, and not Mammon. Life will have a stable order and structure to it because it will have the right foundation
β and the key to that foundation is desire.
The two most common competitors, money and sex, cannot satisfy the desires they create. Only God fills the need that we have within our souls, and he is to be the focus of our desires β not just our willpower, not just a mechanical decision to be committed to God, but our desires need to be focused on God. It is only when we treasure him above all else, that all else will be given to us.
It is God that we want, even more than a commitment to God. If we seek after a commitment to God, it is too easy to look for something we have done, something we have decided to do, something we can boast about. "What a jolly good person I am, because I am so committed to God."
It is like how Jesus described the Pharisee in Luke 18:12: "I give tithes of all I possess, and I fast twice in the week." In other words, "What a good person I am. I am so committed to God."
Now, that scripture puts a different slant on things, doesn't it? Jesus is taking the concept of "commitment to God" and putting it in the form of a Pharisee! If we are not careful, we can do the same thing. We can turn "commitment to God" into some good thing that we do and pat ourselves on the back for it.
So what do we do instead? Do we refuse to tithe, and refuse to fast, and pat ourselves on the back for that? No, that was not Jesus' point at all. Jesus was not encouraging us to be unfaithful. He was not saying that we should sin so that grace might abound.
But he was saying to watch our attitude β to watch our attitude about our commitment to God. We should never let obedience or commitment become an end in itself, as if that were our main goal in life.
Our main goal is actually God, and when we seek him, obedience and commitment will naturally follow. But if we make commitment our main goal in life, then we are making commitment a god that comes before the true God. We are taking a good thing and treating it as if it were the most important thing, when it isn't.
We don't want to put the cart before the horse. We have to see commitment not as the main goal of life, but as a necessary result of seeking God as our main goal. When we seek God himself, commitment will automatically be there, following right along. It is not really something that we achieve, but something that God puts in us when we put him first.
It is easy for us to see sin as the main problem in life, and to think that our main goal in religious life is therefore to stop sinning. But if that is our main goal, then we are leaving God out of the picture. We are putting human behavior as more important than God. Oh, I know, we try to re-define the behavior as God's law and therefore a good goal, and I don't argue with that. It is a good goal, but it's not the best goal. It's not the most important goal.
If our main goal in life is to stop sinning, then dead people do a pretty good job of it. They have stopped sinning.
I agree, we should stop sinning, but when we focus on that as our main goal in life, we have set our sights too low. We are not aiming high enough. That's because we need to look not at what we can do, but we need to look to God, to seek him and his righteousness. We don't need just an absence of sin β we need righteousness itself, and that comes only as a gift of God, not through our own works.
If we focus merely on behavior, we are tempted to brag. Jesus' comments about the Pharisee show that quite well. But if we focus on God, we have nothing to brag about, and we have the right behavior as an added bonus.
Obedience alone is not enough.
Let me focus on Acts 14:23. This is on Paul's first missionary journey, when he was about ready to go back to Antioch. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.
These elders were commended to the Lord. This is not talking about their commitment to obey God. Rather, it means that Paul was leaving them in God's care. It talks about their faith, their trust in God. That is what it means to be committed to God - it means to trust in his care for us. If we seek him first, he will take care of our other needs.
The second verse I want to focus on is Acts 20:32. this is a similar situation. Paul is leaving Asia behind, and talking to the elders of the church at Ephesus, and he says, "And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified."
When Paul speaks of commitment, he is not talking about obedience. He is not talking about how faithful we have to be toward God. It's true, we should be faithful, but when it comes to commitment, the far more important thought is that God will take care of us. He is committed to us. His word of grace will build us up and give us an inheritance among all the saints.
Commitment starts not with us, but with God. He has committed himself toward us, to call us and save us and build us up and give us an eternal inheritance. We need his mercy. We need his grace. We need him. When we seek him and put ourselves in his care, and put our trust in him, he will take care of the other stuff.
That puts commitment in another light. Commitment to God includes the element of trust. We have to trust in a power we cannot see, a power we cannot control. And why do we trust in this power, this person? Because he has shown himself to be utterly trustworthy. In the language of the New Testament, God is faithful.
He who did not spare his own Son, to save us while we were yet sinners, he can be counted on to do whatever it takes to finish the work he has begun in us. We were rebellious, we were bribe-taking extortioners, we were unfaithful, and Jesus died for us. That is the foundation for whatever response we give him.
The reason that we can be faithful is that we know that he will be faithful to us. Our good works will be rewarded. He won't forget the good work we do β but when we fall short, it is also essential for us to understand that he will never change in being gracious toward us, in showing us mercy that we don't deserve, that he accepts us according to our faith and not on the basis of our faulty works.
So, my brothers and sisters, I testify to you that our commitment to God must be based on faith β a faith in his mercy. Faith means trust, a recognition that we are powerless and must depend on a power greater than ourselves.
Faith also means belief. We believe that God is, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him. We believe that God is love, that he is truth, that he is absolutely reliable. We believe what he says about righteousness and sin and guilt. We believe what he says about our need for mercy and grace. We believe what he says about salvation possible only through Jesus Christ.
We believe, we trust, and therefore, as a result of our belief and trust, we obey. Faith must come first, for faith is the foundation of our relationship with God and the foundation of our commitment to God.
I leave these words with you in the name of our redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.