Talk given at the Pleasant Valley Branch at the South Boise Women's Correctional Center
May 10th, 2015
The Process of Change
When we think of God, we think of someone with incredible power. We think of how he helped Moses free the Israelites from Egypt, parting the Red Sea so his people could escape. We think of Jesus Christ feeding the five thousand from only a handful of loaves and fishes. We recognize that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have incredible power. It only seems natural that if they really love us, they should use those powers to help us here on earth.
“God could fix my life in five minutes if he wanted to,” we say in exasperation. And when God disagrees to make fire rain down from the sky onto our enemies, we get angry with him. We tell ourselves that if God doesn’t want to help us with our problems, then it’s his fault when we suffer because of them.
In reality, we know God didn’t inflict our problems on us. The problems in our lives are the products of choices—whether our own choices, or someone else’s. In order to teach us the consequences of those actions, the Lord does not interfere. He will, however, teach us and enable us to make better choices, to overcome our circumstances.
This is the topic I want to address with you today, by starting with a scripture.
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
2 Nephi 28: 30
In this scripture, the Lord outlines four essential characteristics of real and lasting change.
- Line Upon Line
- Precept Upon Precept
- Here a little, and There a Little
to Learn Wisdom
Whether we’re overcoming an addiction, healing from abuse in our past, or simply trying to become a kind and compassionate person, our transformation will depend on us receiving these four aspects of change into our lives.
1. “Line upon Line”
To go through something line upon line means to start at the beginning, and to go in order through all of the necessary steps until you reach the end. It means taking the time to finish each step in a process, and to do it right. We don’t expect there to be a shortcut, a faster way to get what we want. We are willing to pay full price, walk the entire distance, or wait the full duration of time it takes to achieve the desired result.
Imagine if you wanted to read a book, and kept skipping every other line because you wanted to get to the end faster. You’d miss so much information, the book wouldn’t even make any sense. But that’s how some of us try to live our lives. We want to skip over the unpleasant, boring, difficult, or tedious parts and get straight to the good stuff. People who live this way long enough believe that life should never have to be inconvenient.
Many of Satan’s deceptions I’ve encountered all deal in this one desire—a promise of easier results with less work or time required. He’s always offering dishonest, yet easy ways to avoid a problem, while trying to minimize or conceal the consequences. Feel better now the easy way. Make money the faster way. Get respect without earning it. Get the results you want without confronting your problems, gaining skills, or becoming a better person.
Jesus Christ never gave into this temptation to find an easier way. In Luke 4: 1-12, Jesus was tempted three different times to accomplish his mission the easier way. All of Christ’s life, he lived in poverty. He went hungry most of the time. In verse 3, the Devil tempts him by saying “If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread.”
Listen to Jesus’ response: “It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.”
Jesus knows that if he uses his powers to give himself food, he may solve the problem of his hunger. But he will have done so by an abuse of his power and authority. He knows that it was a commandment to Adam that by the sweat of his brow, he should earn his bread all the days of his life. Jesus would never take that which he had not earned. To use his power in this way would be cheating and stealing. It was a sin for him to do so, and Jesus Christ intended to keep ALL of the commandments. He would not reduce his divine purpose to the mere exercise of obtaining bread. He would live for more than his own hunger, by every word and commandment from the mouth of his Father in Heaven.
If we intend to become the people Jesus has taught us to be, we must not be afraid to learn, to work, and to heal “line upon line.” We must do it his way, and be submissive to the will of the Lord every time he makes it known to us—from start to finish.
2. “Precept upon Precept”
A precept is a statement of pure truth. Sometimes we refer to these a doctrines or principles. A precept is a principle of power. It’s anything we learn that transforms, heals, or saves us. Because the Holy Ghost testifies of precepts, he gives us the power to change as we ponder and embrace them.
Jesus Christ suffered for my sins, weaknesses, and my mortal imperfections in the Garden of Gethsemane. Because he was resurrected, I will live again after I die. He loves me and wants me to live with him forever. These are all precepts. The moment we understand a precept, receive it, and base our beliefs and actions upon it, it changes us. We see ourselves and everything around us differently. We have a greater desire to repent and come unto Christ.
Just as no one is ever too old to learn if they will apply themselves, no one is ever so lost that they cannot repent. No matter where you are, or how far you have to go, there is still hope for you to change. I know this is true because of the transformation I’ve seen in my own life.
I am a convert to the Church. My parents were not religious people. They made choices that brought much suffering into their lives, and into the lives of those around them. My father was an alcoholic and an addict, and my mother struggled to raise two children without any help from him. I can’t tell you how many times we didn’t have enough to eat, but there was always a case of beer in the refrigerator. My mom scraped the food off of her plate to feed her children more times than I care to remember. My greatest fear was that my future would never be any different, that I couldn’t escape the poverty and the violence that had always been my life.
When I learned the message of the restored gospel, I realized that I had a choice in who I would become. I came to feel for myself what Jesus was talking about when he promised “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8: 31-32)
I had never felt free, because I had never known the truth. I didn’t know that I was a daughter of God, with great worth and value. I didn’t know that God could answer my prayers. I didn’t know that Jesus Christ atoned for my sins so he could forgive me for my mistakes. I didn’t know that he was resurrected so that I would live again after I died. I didn’t know that Jesus had called Joseph Smith to be a prophet, to bring an end to the spiritual famine in which my family had always lived their lives. I didn’t know that I needed to be baptized in order to be saved. And I didn’t know that Jesus had the power to heal the years of abuse I had endured from people in my life who should have known better.
As I learned the truth “precept upon precept,” I felt myself begin to change. I came to love my Savior in a deeply personal way as he healed me, week after week, of pain that ran deep within my soul. I had felt so broken for so long, I struggled to imagine how my life could ever be any different. And because the Lord wanted me to know that he loved me, he didn’t start by fixing all of my problems, or my circumstances, or the people in my life who were making a royal mess of everything around me. He started by fixing me.
In time, I learned the wisdom of the Lord in why he focused on fixing me, instead of my circumstances. President Ezra Taft Benson explained it best when he said:
The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.
I realized that God wasn’t going to fix my problems for me. He gave me complete access to his Atonement, and allowed me to use it to fix my own life. In time, I would take myself away from the poverty, abuse, and neglect that had been my experience in life.
Line upon line, precept upon precept, I rejected every excuse that kept me from escaping poverty. I purged from my heart every weakness that compelled me to hurt others because I was hurting. I severed relationships with friends and family—sometimes temporarily, sometimes for good—because I refused to be a victim anymore. Everything that was selfish, hateful, unforgiving, proud, vengeful, carnal, sensual, and devilish had to go. I was in battle against my natural woman, in a way I had no language to describe until I read these words by Bryant S. Hinckley:
When a man makes war on his own weaknesses he engages in the holiest war that mortals ever wage. The reward that comes from victory in this struggle is the most enduring, most satisfying, and the most exquisite that man ever experiences. In no other conflict is there so much at stake. In no other struggle are the values so precious and the results so compensating and so comforting.
Bryant S. Hinckley, That Ye Might Have Joy
Purging myself of the natural woman will take a lifetime. But I could tell I had made real progress when instead of asking myself, “What do I want, and what is the easiest way to get it?” I had learned to ask, “What does the Lord want me to do, and how can I do it in a way that will please him?”
I began remaking my life in the Lord’s image, until there was no resemblance to the life I lived before. You may question if that will ever be possible for you. I testify that it is! Your victory over sin and death is guaranteed. The only question you have to ask is how badly do you want it? How much are you willing to give for that newness of life? Because your problems won’t end. The life of discipleship is way more difficult than anything I ever faced living in a trailer park. But the difference now is I have help, hope, and a future!
“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” the Lord said. “I will that ye should overcome the world; wherefore I will have compassion upon you.” (John 16: 33, D&C 64: 2)
Jesus Christ is mighty to save. He has truly descended below all things, from the destitute and the hopeless, to the darkest abyss of hell and back. There is no suffering you have felt that he has not borne with you. And he didn’t do it just so you would have some company in your misery! He intends to rescue you! He did it because that it what it means to leave the ninety-and-nine, and go in search of the one. He will provide for your deliverance, one step at a time. It may be slow going at first, but “line upon line, precept upon precept,” step by step, he is leading you to the kingdom of God.
3. “Here a Little, There a Little”
In order for the truth to have this kind of impact on us, we must be in constant search of God. Searching for the Lord’s hand in our lives is a lot like the Israelites gathering manna in the desert. While many people know of the miracle in which the Lord caused bread to appear each morning on the ground, a lesser known detail is how they could only keep enough to last themselves for the day. If they tried or expected to gather more, the manna would rot and be of no use to them.
The Lord intended to teach them that, in the same way they needed to eat every day, they needed to look to the Lord for their sustenance. Every time they went out in search of food, they had to acknowledge from whose hand it had come.
The same idea applies to us when we are searching for the Lord's influence in our circumstances. He never gives us so much of his help that we will never need his help again. He gives us "here a little, and there a little" according to our daily needs. He interacts with us in this way because he knows it will help us to build a continuing relationship of trust with him.
To search for the Lord's influence in our lives means turning to him diligently each day, not just when we're in the middle of a crisis. It means trusting that his allotment to us is sufficient for our needs, and we resist the temptation to demand more. We embrace that gathering answers to our prayers requires effort and practice. We accept whatever the Lord gives to us, without resistance.
The Israelites, like us, were human. They needed to learn the same lessons over and over again, the same ways we do today. Several hundred years after the Israelites settled in the promised land, they became slow to remember the Lord. The broke his commandments, and spurned every effort the Lord made to correct them. Their punishment was to spend 70 years in exile in Babylon. But even in the same day the Lord declared their exile, he was already providing a way for their deliverance. In Jeremiah 29: 11-13, we read:
11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
The Lord would come to deliver his people from exile when they were ready to invest their whole hearts into searching for him. No punishment lasts forever when we search for the Lord, and choose to repent. For each of us, the promise is the same.
As a topic for your own personal scripture study, I would invite you to study deliverance, and the many accounts of the Lord delivering his people from bondage. What role did the people play in their own deliverance?
It's true in every case that they never would have succeeded without the Lord. But had the people never acted, using their faith and agency, the Lord never would have intervened on their behalf.
Searching for inspiration from the Lord for many of the problems in our lives will come over a period of weeks, months, and sometimes even many years. But as those conversations with the Lord unfold, we do not need to wait that long to receive his blessings. The moment we reach out to him, we are instantly blessed with a better relationship with him.
Trust that searching “here a little, and there a little” is not a waste of time. When we are diligently doing everything we can, our lives are improving—even if we do not see it. Have the faith and hope to believe in the progress you cannot see.
4. “He that Hearkeneth… shall learn wisdom”
Everything I have described to you today is impossible without listening. In a very real way, everything I have taught you today has been about listening: how to listen to the Lord better, and what the blessings are to those who listen to the Lord.
When I was young, a wise person in my life once said, “You have two ears and one mouth because God wanted you to listen twice as much as you talk.”
Then I served a mission and had to learn a foreign language. I had no choice but to listen to everyone I met, because I couldn’t talk. I spent so much of my energy struggling to talk. I was reminded of the value of listening by a phrase written on a calendar: “The reward for always listening when you'd rather be talking is wisdom.”
Wisdom is the ability to use the knowledge we’ve obtained, to judge between right and wrong for ourselves. Wisdom requires responsibility, the willingness to live with the consequences of our choices. Developing that ability reason we came to earth. Wisdom is the one thing we could never have had if we’d stayed in Heavenly Father’s presence. We understood the risk of coming here, of confronting evil, of making choices—and we had absolute confidence in the Lord’s ability to help us. This entire learning experience does not work if we do not ask for help, and listen for the Lord’s response.
Job in the Old Testament learned about the value of gaining wisdom, even in suffering. As he became a target for Satan’s temptations and interference, his children were killed, he lost all of his herds, and his house was destroyed. His friends abandoned him, and his conversations with them all center around one question: Is suffering and misfortune a punishment for sin?
Job’s experience provides an answer to this question. Job was not suffering because he had sinned. He was suffering because he was learning lessons about himself and the Lord he could not have learned in any other way. How else could Job have developed the faith to say about the Lord, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him”? (Job 13: 15) How else would he have come to say about himself, “But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold”? (Job 23: 10)
By the time Job reached the end of that experience, of proving himself before the Lord AND the Devil, Job had learned one of the most precious lessons God has to teach.
12 But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?
28 And unto man [the Lord] said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.
Job 28: 12, 28
Sisters, I know the Lord is aware of each one of you. He knows your circumstances, you fears, your questions, and the plan he has for your lives. He knows what you need. By allowing him to teach you line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, you will learn wisdom.
I know that God is our loving Father in Heaven. He sent his son, Jesus Christ, to redeem us all from the Fall. I know that Joseph Smith is the prophet who restored the true Church of Jesus Christ to the earth. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. This one verse we’ve discussed today is only one example of thousands of ways the Book of Mormon can teach and uplift you.
I leave you my testimony and my prayers in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.