I’m going to begin with a reboot of the story of the Rich Young Ruler.
The not-at-all rich, not at all young, Mom prayed to ask the Lord, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He answered, “Thou knowest the commandments. Love God, love thy neighbor, No killing, no stealing, no adultery, be honest…”
The mother interrupted and said, “Lord, I do all of that stuff (remembers the "be honest" thing)—or at least, I’m trying my hardest. What else do I need to do? What’s the secret?”
The Lord said, “Maybe thou shouldst go read what Joseph Smith said about sacrifice.”
Among many things about sacrifice that the Prophet Joseph Smith said, here are a few (from Lectures on Faith 6):
“An actual knowledge to any person, that the course of life which he pursues is according to the will of God, is essentially necessary to enable him to have that confidence in God without which no person can obtain eternal life … and unless they have an actual knowledge that the course they are pursuing is according to the will of God they will grow weary in their minds and faint … and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. …“It was in offering sacrifices that Abel, the first martyr, obtained knowledge that he was accepted of God. And from the days of righteous Abel to the present time, the knowledge that men have that they are accepted in the sight of God is obtained by offering sacrifice.“But those who have not made this sacrifice to God do not know that the course which they pursue is well pleasing in his sight; for whatever may be their belief or their opinion, it is a matter of doubt and uncertainty in their mind; and where doubt and uncertainty are there faith is not, nor can it be. For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time; so that persons whose minds are under doubts and fears cannot have unshaken confidence; and where unshaken confidence is not there faith is weak; and where faith is weak the persons will not be able to contend against all opposition, tribulations, and afflictions which they will have to encounter in order to be heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ Jesus; and they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them.”
That’s a lot. It's deep stuff. The gist is that we can’t know that what we are doing in our lives is exactly what the Lord wants us to do, unless we offer up to Him everything that we have, and are. And if we aren’t utterly confident that our course in life is pleasing to God, we can’t have absolute faith. If we don’t have that faith, we will falter and risk being overcome and losing our way.
What are we willing to sacrifice? What do we hold back from the altar?
I know that there are times I am terrified that Heavenly Father will ask me to let a child go.
When Simon was a newborn, I would sit in the chair and feed him or rock him, and I sat there sobbing, holding a perfect little baby, so grateful to have him, yet so afraid that it was only until Heavenly Father figured out that he was missing:
(imaginary Heavenly Father conversation:)
Hey! Where'd Simon go? (muffled angel answers)
What? Who sent him down there? I miss him! Bring him back, NOW!
Yes. I was truly convinced that any moment, I would have to give him back. And it still scares me to think of losing any one of my children, or my husband. I'm pretty sure I'm holding them back from the altar, or at least using my biggest puppy dog eyes and looking up at Heavenly Father begging him to not have that be something asked of me. So I am well aware that I may be lacking in the "willing to sacrifice" department.
Some sacrifices are harder to make than others.
I like the story of King Lamoni’s father. When he was taught the Gospel, he cried out in mighty prayer, begging to be saved, and promised to “give up all his sins” to know God.
Are we willing to sacrifice, to give up, our favorite sins? This is what Moroni calls “denying yourselves of all ungodliness.”
Doctrine and Covenants 121: says:
“Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth”
Speaking of how our righteousness impacts our confidence, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland told this story. He says:
The conference concluded with a testimony meeting in which a handsome, young returned missionary stood up to bear his testimony. He looked good, clean, and confident—just like a returned missionary should look.As he began to speak, tears came to his eyes. He said he was grateful to stand in the midst of such a terrific group of young Latter-day Saints and to feel good about the life he was trying to lead. But that feeling had only been possible, he said, because of an experience he had had a few years earlier, an experience that had shaped his life forever.He then told of coming home from a date shortly after he had been ordained an elder at age 18. Something had happened on this date of which he was not proud. To this day I do not know the nature of the incident, but it was significant enough to him to have affected his spirit and his self-esteem.As he sat in his car for a while in the driveway of his own home, thinking things through and feeling genuine sorrow for whatever had happened, his nonmember mother came running frantically from the house straight to his car. In an instant she conveyed that this boy’s younger brother had just fallen in the home, had hit his head sharply and was having some kind of seizure or convulsion. The nonmember father had immediately called for an ambulance, but it would take some time at best for help to come.“Come and do something,” she cried. “Isn’t there something you do in your Church at times like this? You have their priesthood. Come and do something.”His mother didn’t know a lot about the Church at that point, but she knew something of priesthood blessings. Nevertheless, on this night when someone he loved dearly needed his faith and his strength, this young man could not respond. Given the feelings he had just been wrestling with and the compromise he felt he had just made—whatever that was—he could not bring himself to go before the Lord and ask for the blessing that was needed.He bolted from the car and ran down the street to the home of a worthy older man who had befriended him in the ward ever since the boy’s conversion two or three years earlier. An explanation was given, and the two were back at the house still well before the paramedics arrived. The happy ending of this story as told in that testimony meeting was that this older man instantly gave a sweet, powerful priesthood blessing, leaving the injured child stable and resting by the time medical help arrived. A quick trip to the hospital and a thorough exam there revealed no permanent damage had been done. A very fearful moment for this family had passed.Then the returned missionary of whom I speak said this: “No one who has not faced what I faced that night will ever know the shame I felt and the sorrow I bore for not feeling worthy to use the priesthood I held. It is an even more painful memory for me because it was my own little brother who needed me and my beloved nonmember parents who were so fearful and who had a right to expect more of me. But as I stand before you today, I can promise you this,” he said. “I am not perfect, but from that night onward I have never done anything that would keep me from going before the Lord with confidence and asking for His help when it is needed. Personal worthiness is a battle in this world in which we live,” he acknowledged, “but it is a battle I am winning. I have felt the finger of condemnation pointing at me once in my life, and I don’t intend to feel it ever again if I can do anything about it. And, of course,” he concluded, “I can do everything about it.”
Are we willing to sacrifice our favorite sins in order to have confidence in front of our Heavenly Father?
|I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God,|
that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice,
holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
Elder Neal A Maxwell said, “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’ … are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us.”
The Savior taught the Nephites after his resurrection:
“Ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away. … And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost” ().
To have a broken heart and a contrite spirit is to be humble and receptive to the will of God and to the counsel of those He has called to lead His Church. It also means to feel deep sorrow for sin and a sincere desire to repent.
The prophet Lehi emphasized the importance of offering this sacrifice: “Behold, [Christ] offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered” ().
Those who show their willingness to sacrifice as the Lord has commanded will be accepted by Him. He taught in Doctrine and Covenant 97:8: “All … who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me” ().
Elder Russell M. Nelson has taught:
“We are still commanded to sacrifice, but not by shedding blood of animals. Our highest sense of sacrifice is achieved as we make ourselves more sacred or holy. This we do by our obedience to the commandments of God. Thus, the laws of obedience and sacrifice are indelibly intertwined. … As we comply with these and other commandments, something wonderful happens to us. … We become more sacred and holy—[more] like our Lord!” (“Lessons from Eve,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 88).
I love what Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:
“Real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!”
It is my hope and prayer that each of us, and especially myself, can place the parts of ourselves, the natural man, the animal, upon the altar and let go of our sins. I know that the Savior has already paid the price to have our sins be consumed and to purify us so that we can be clean. I know that as we sacrifice whatever it is that the Lord asks of us, --even our favorite sins-- that we will be strengthened and perfected.