As usual, there have been several posts recently related to the topic of obedience. A favored branch of this topic is the term strict obedience. Dave put up a post on Elder Bednar’s recent address at BYU where he brought up the two sets of earrings standard in a story. Monday’s post at The Iron Rod was on obedience. Jeffrey Gilliam has a whole series on the topic. This is obviously something that is on our collective minds. It happens to be on my mind tonight too, so here are some thoughts.
There are arguments that can be made for and against this concept of strict obedience – especially to the little things. The commenters at Dave’s blog brought up a lot of them. Among these are that it is hypocritical — even pharisaic — to focus on silly little rules like having one set of earrings instead of two while paying little or no attention to the weightier matters of the law. This is true. Others question how the number of earrings a woman is wearing has any affect on her relationship with God. That is also a good question.
Nowhere in this church are there more strict outward rules to follow than on missions. Missionaries have rules and regulations galore. I served in the Tennessee Nashville Mission from ’89-91 and we had rules comin’ out our ears there. One nitpicky rule I remember was the rule that we were to wear our jackets when the temperature was below 70 degrees F. Being the strictly obedient missionary I was, on days that started in the sixties and rose well into the seventies I would start the day with my jacket on and at mid-day when things warmed up I would ditch the jacket. Of course this seems like a silly thing to do and in most cases it really would be. The jacket was not magic. But somehow it seemed rather important to follow even the smallest and silliest rule at the time. I followed this practice throughout my mission.
At some point I figured out why it mattered. The rules were simply a means for me, not an end. The rules were a crutch for me. The end goal was faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I needed to work mighty miracles and had not the faith in Jesus Christ to do it on my own. I needed a method to focus my mind and energies on the single goal of piercing the veil and receiving the Gifts of the Spirit I was entitled to. I couldn’t do it without crutches so the Lord and the Mission provided those crutches for me in strict rules. When I fervently prayed for hearts to be changed, or for guidance on where to go or what to say, I would inevitably evaluate myself there at the throne of God. “Have I done my part? Am I working hard enough at this? Do I love these strangers enough to do everything in my power to help them? If so, am I fasting and praying enough? Am I listening enough? Am I obeying all of the mission rules?” If I could answer yes to all of those questions then I found my confidence waxing strong in the presence of God. I found myself demanding mighty and even shocking miracles and I witnessed God grant them over and over.
So what caused these miracles? It was my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. What allowed me to generate miracle-working faith? It was largely my strict obedience to mission rules. What motivated the whole thing? I truly loved these strangers with a kind of love I knew Christ had for them.
Do you remember the movie Dumbo? It’s worth seeing again. After Dumbo got really drunk by accident (and after that really long psychedelic delirium segment) he awoke in the high branches of a tree. He didn’t know he flew up there so the crows got together and plucked a feather and gave it to him telling him it was magic and that by holding it he could fly. That feather gave Dumbo the confidence and faith he needed to pull off the flying. I am saying that strict obedience often works as our “magic” feather. God probably doesn’t really care about many of the small issues but he deeply cares whether we are generating enough faith to attain the Gifts of the Spirit that are ours to have; enough faith to work mighty miracles for ourselves and others; enough faith to become prophets, seers and revelators in our own spheres of responsibility.
Of course life and the rules are not so black and white in post-mission life. It is a little harder to really know which small rules are actually rules from God and not just traditions of men. That process requires some pondering and inspiration of its own. But after we have inquired of the Lord about what little things He actually wants us to do (and get some answers) we can look at those little rules not as the Man keepin’ us down, but rather as potential boosters to our faith given to us under the watchful eye of The Man.