Hello! It's good to be back. I'm Oliver Dahl and just returned this week from the Arkansas Little Rock Mission, which covers a lot of Arkansas, but also Memphis, TN, and a chunk of Mississippi. The locals call it the buckle of the Bible belt, and boy do they love their Bible. I guess it makes sense - I think the people of the South can just relate really well to the stories of Jesus ministering to the sinners and the publicans... cause there are a lot of sinners and republicans down there.
In all seriousness, though, I loved the South. I'm not sure I'd move there anytime soon, but I can't imagine a better place to serve a mission. I don't know where on God's green earth - Salt Lake City included - you will find a people so almost universally devoted to their Savior.
This of course, comes with a few caveats. Things like how there are literally more different churches than gas stations. I loved how this helped certain people identify with the Joseph Smith story, not knowing which of all these churches was true. People are recognizing hypocrisy and the straying from biblical teachings.
In the BoM, We've heard of Moroni's challenge, but there is also a challenge Mormon gives, in Mormon chapter 7 verse 9. "For behold, this [referring to the BoM] is written for the intent that ye may believe that; [referring to the Bible] and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them."
While not every bible-loving person we talked to politely and eagerly accepted a Book of Mormon, I loved seeing light dawn in people's eyes as they realized, "hey that makes sense. God does love all of His children. I guess he would call prophets among the people of the Americas, too."
I am so thankful for the BoM. It is powerful, divine, and has thoroughly convinced me of the reality of Jesus Christ, and of the true points of His doctrine that make The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.
The Book of Mormon outlines, supports, and makes more clear the answers to spiritual questions. To me, the idea that the purpose of life is to "accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior" isnt... wrong. But it falls a little flat because there is so much more to it than that.
The BoM teaches us that a central purpose of our life on earth is to overcome the natural man, which one does when he "yields to the enticings of the holy spirit" and "becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father" (Mosiah 3:19).
It's this idea of submitting our will to the Lord's that I was asked to speak about today.
Neal A. Maxwell taught, "The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar... The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him" (August 2000 Ensign).
So many of us are kept from eventual consecration because we mistakenly think that, somehow, by letting our will be swallowed up in the will of God, we lose our individuality (see Mosiah 15:7). What we are really worried about, of course, is not giving up self, but selfish things—like our roles, our time, our preeminence, and our possessions. No wonder we are instructed by the Savior to lose ourselves (see Luke 9:24). He is only asking us to lose the old self in order to find the new self. It is not a question of one’s losing identity but of finding his true identity! Ironically, so many people already lose themselves anyway in their consuming hobbies and preoccupations but with far, far lesser things. (Oct. 95 conference address)
Oof, that's pretty direct. One of the things that I think we all have to continually figure out is what exactly God's will for us is. I think it'd be a whole lot easier if God just told us, "okay, here's your agenda for today. I need you to do this, this, and this." But I think a part of what makes surrendering our will so difficult is we don't always know what exactly we are submitting to.
Every day as a missionary, we plead with the Lord to know His will in order for us to... do His will. Some days, it seemed like everything lined up perfectly for us just by asking. But other days, it seemed like the heavens were closed to us. I came to understand that this was actually a sign of trust from our Heavenly Father. He knew that we understood our purpose, and trusted that we would figure something out to do that day. While this was sometimes frustrating, I think we grow a lot more when God trusts us enough to leave us to our own.
Inevitably, we would see some small miracle or divine indication that what we'd chosen to do really was His will after all. One of my favorite examples of this was found while tracting in Collierville, TN, a wealthy suburb of Memphis. We weren't having much luck, which I'd kinda gotten used to, but I was looking at my shoes as we were walking, wondering why we'd picked this neighborhood. All the sudden we find a temple recommend on the ground! There was a youth temple trip that evening, and we were able to return it to the young woman. It built my faith that the Lord leads His missionaries and His church, and wanted the young woman and those she would do the temple work for to benefit from that. He made sure they wouldn't miss out.
[And in an April 87 conference talk:] And in Neal A Maxwell's signature poetic style, he sums it all up this way:
"Some give of their time yet withhold themselves, being present without giving of their presence and going through the superficial motions of membership instead of the deep emotions of consecrated discipleship."
In a later talk, he adds, "Thus, brothers and sisters, consecration is not resignation or a mindless caving in. Rather, it is a deliberate expanding outward, making us more honest when we sing, “More used would I be” (“More Holiness Give Me,” 1985, Hymns, no. 131). Consecration, likewise, is not shoulder-shrugging acceptance, but, instead, shoulder-squaring to better bear the yoke. (Oct. 95.)
In this endeavor of surrendering our will to the Lord's, we will find that giving that of ourselves is difficult. Its the stubborn natural man in us that wants to do what we want to do. Turning our will over to the Lord isn't about giving in with a "fine, I'll do it," but with genuinely getting to a point where we want to do what He wants us to do.
The scriptures give us a warning about this. 2 corinthians 9 says that we should give "not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). And Mormon adds in Moroni 7 that if we give a gift grudgingly, "it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God" (Moroni 7:8).
Elder Renlund, in his October 2018 conference talk, expounded on this idea.
"Our Heavenly Father’s goal in parenting is not to have His children do what is right; [wait a minute, did I read that right?] it is to have His children choose to do what is right and ultimately become like Him. If He simply wanted us to be obedient, He would use immediate rewards and punishments to influence our behaviors.
"But God is not interested in His children just becoming trained and obedient “pets” who will not chew on His slippers in the celestial living room. No, God wants His children to grow up spiritually and join Him in the family business."
Our Mission President has us read at the beginning of my mission a talk entitled
The Fourth Missionary by Lawrence E. Corbridge, which identifies the "fourth missionary" as an example of consecratation. It reads,
"The purpose and central blessing of life is change. It is to be changed to become more like Jesus Christ. It is to incorporate into your character, the qualities of His character. It is to move from one degree of intelligence and capacity to the next, and from there to the next, until you see God face to face and know Him as He knows you.
...This process of change, this process [of] evolving, becoming, is the object of the gospel. Change is the design of faith in Christ, repentance, and baptism. Redemptive change happens by the power of the Holy Ghost. But it happens only if and when your heart is right. It happens only if you do not fight against God. It happens only if you unconditionally surrender your will to the Lord."
Again, there's a difference of course in a reluctant surrender as opposed to a willing surrender of your will. This next line is my favorite in the talk.
"You can't be in a state of happiness, whether now or in the eternities, if you don't want to do the things that lead to happiness... even if you do those very things."
So... not only do we have to surrender our will, but we have to also want to? Otherwise, it's a gift given begrudgingly, and has neither saving power or associated blessings.
This idea was kind of hard on me for a few days as a missionary as I pondered about that. I'm supposed to want to go knock doors? Want to go sweat through my clothes? Want to go do this and this?
And fortunately, the perfect example of our Savior, Jesus Christ came to mind.
When in the Garden of Gethsemane, his prayer gave me hope and peace and gratitude.
He prayed, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done."
Not His will be done? What was the Savior's will? At first glance it seems that maybe He didn't want to drink the bitter cup. He wasn't stubbornly refusing to do it, but we can tell that there is a part of His perfect soul that isn't entirely enthusiastic about what will happen next.
But did he give the gift begrudgingly? No. Because His will to not drink was made secondary to his greater desire to not shrink and to do the Father's will. That will to have His Father's will be done was stronger than His will to have His will be done.
The Savior's example taught me that it's okay if I don't whole-heartedly jump for joy as I accept His will and His timing. He, in part, wanted some other way. ...But not as much as He wanted to please His Father. He taught me that I am acceptable even if I want some other thing. As long as I want His way even more. I came to think of this idea as "wanting to want" to surrender my will.
So long as our wanting to want to do what the Lord commands is a stronger desire than our wanting to do our own will, we will find ourselves changed, blessed, accepted, and exalted. There will be times when we want to shrink from our own, smaller, and far less bitter cups. But we can pray, as did our Savior, "nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done."
What does this look like? It looks like sitting in an air conditioned car, knowing the temperature is in the 90s and the humidity just as high and perhaps even thinking "What kind of person would live here and subject themselves to this kind of heat?" There might even be the thought, "I really don't really want to be mosquito food, I don't wanna do this." But then opening the car door, and going to work, talking to people in the street, anyway.
We may not want what is around the corner, but we can earnestly strive to want to want our Father's will for us. We may not want to leave the air conditioned car, but we can want to want to enough that the next thing you know, we're doing it!
And we can face it wanting it, or we can face it shrinking from it. Even if we make the same decision in either circumstance, choosing reluctantly won't reward us, change us, or bring us happiness. So we might as well want to want to do the Lord's will.
2cor8:12 says, "For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not" (2 Corinthians 8:12). Wanting and seeking a willing mind, inherently develops within us a willing mind. These righteous desires, no matter how small or faint, are accepted over the portions of ourselves that may still be reluctant. Our wanting of a willing mind outweighs, on God's scale, the weight of our natural man's hesitancy and lack of true desire.
We may not always want to do Heavenly Father's will. We may want to "shrink" from whatever bitter cup is before us. But as we, like the Savior, profess "Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done," (Luke 22:42) our intent changes from "grudging gift giving" (see Moroni 7:8) to a "perfect heart" and "willing mind" (see Chronicles 29:9 and D&C 64:34) -- hearts and minds that at least want to want to obey.
I love sharing the gospel with people. As kind of a creative person, I like writing, photography, etc. To share what's in my mind and heart with people. I came to realize pretty quickly that missionary work is just another medium of art, sharing not just thoughts, ideas, experiences, or scenes, but the best feeling of all - the witness of the Holy Ghost.
There are times I wish I could just take my brain, what little I know, and the lot that I feel, and just put it right inside someone else's head for a little bit, until they're choking for air and get the idea!
I've spent a lot of time frustrated that my words can't begin to describe my feelings for the gospel. But I recently read Pres. Packers first genconf talk, and he reminded me that it's not my words job to do that. It's the Spirits job.
So I hope as I bear my testimony, in words you've heard the primary kids use, and even the apostles use, that the Spirit will be able to convey to you what I know.
I know that Jesus Christ lives, and that He is my Savior. Though "I stand all amazed" now, I sense that in a coming day there won't be much standing happening at all.
I know that He restored His ancient church to the earth today through the prophet Joseph Smith.
I know that He today leads and directs this church. If there's any doubt about that, go look at the Arkansas Little Rock Mission. I know that Pres. Russel M. Nelson is God's prophet on the earth for our day.
I know that the Book of Mormon is divine in source, authenticity, and power. It is through this precious, flawless book that I have come to know all these other things. It is true. I'm thankful the Lord loves His children enough to give them more of His word. The world needs it so desperately.
I'm thankful for the time I had to serve a full-time mission and wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
Serving A Mission!
What's all this about? As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it is expected of me that I will serve a two-year mission. (And yeah, the "riding bikes and wearing nametags and knocking on doors" kind of mission.) But this isn't something I'm doing because it's expected of me... I'm doing this because the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ has blessed my life SO much, in SO many ways. I can't think of a greater honor or responsibility than being able to play a part in someone's story of finding and enjoying these blessings, too.
Sign up to get my weekly emails!
(After June 20, 2017)
Elder Oliver Wrigley Dahl
Arkansas Little Rock Mission
905 Kierre Dr
North Little Rock AR 72116