Josh gave this talk in one of his last Sunday meetings with us before leaving to serve as a missionary. I thought I would post it for the benefit of those who were not there. Looking forward to next week and Josh's half-way point in the missionary training center.
We feel that we have many things required of us, and we strive our best to accomplish the tasks we are charged with and follow the example Christ has set for us. But we constantly fall short. We are supposed to be saved by grace, after all we can do, as Nephi tells us. But what is all that we can do? And where does grace fit in?
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “Now may I speak . . . to those buffeted by false insecurity, who, though laboring devotedly in the Kingdom, have recurring feelings of falling forever short. . . .
. . . This feeling of inadequacy is . . . normal. There is no way the Church can honestly describe where we must yet go and what we must yet do without creating a sense of immense distance. . . .
. . . This is a gospel of grand expectations, but God’s grace is sufficient for each of us.
This is what I want to address today.
Piano lessons analogy: Mom pays the piano teacher. Does the child’s effort pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s effort repay mom for paying the piano teacher? No.
Mosiah 2: 20-21 [23-24]
The child’s practice and effort are a demonstration of appreciation for the lessons that mom has paid for, and mom’s joy comes not from being repaid, but from seeing her gift used and her child living life on a higher plane.
Likewise, Christ is not repaid by our efforts and our practice. He receives joy when we choose to use the gift that he has freely given us to help us live our lives on a higher plane.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.”
The purpose of this change is for our own benefit. As Brother Wilcox puts it, “We are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven.” We are learning to become a people of God.
“Heaven will not be heaven for those who have not chosen to be heavenly” – Alma 12: 14
This does not mean that we must live a perfect life so that we will not be faced with the guilt of our past misdeeds on Judgment Day. It means that we must be changed by grace, so that when we look back on that fateful day, we can say “That’s not who I am anymore”, and leave those sins behind us in the past. The more we allow grace to impact our lives, the more our lives will look more like Christ’s life, and the more comfortable we will be in his presence.
Back to the piano analogy, if you live your life like I played piano back in the day, you long to play the beautiful music you hear others preform so wonderfully and seemingly easily, but when you turn to the keyboard, the sounds are more discordant than pleasant. So, like I did, you give up. It’s not worth the effort. The dichotomy is too great. What we fail to recognize is that the only two options in life are not playing in Carnegie Hall, or quitting.
Brother Wilcox shares the following email he received from a student: “I know God has all power, and I know He will help me if I’m worthy, but I’m just never worthy enough to ask for His help. I want Christ’s grace, but I always find myself stuck in the same self-defeating and impossible position: no work, no grace.”
Brother Wilcox’s response is that, “Grace is not a booster engine that kicks in once our fuel supply is exhausted. Rather, it is our constant energy source. It is not the light at the end of the tunnel but the light that moves us through the tunnel. Grace is not achieved somewhere down the road. It is received right here and right now. It is not a finishing touch; it is the Finisher’s touch.”
Steve was a seminary student that had been kicked out of several classes. One teacher, Brother Christianson, was kind enough to let him in. One day, he pulled Steve aside after class and asked how many push-ups he could do. Steve responded that he did about 200 each night, but after Brother Christianson earnestly asked if he thought he could do 300 in sets of 10 that Friday, Steve was unsure, but thought he could.
Bro. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked, "Cynthia, do you want a donut?"
Cynthia said, "Yes."
Bro. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, "Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?"
Steve said, "Sure," and jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Then Steve again sat in his desk.
Bro. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia's desk.
Bro. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, "Joe do you want a donut?"
Joe said, "Yes." Bro. Christianson asked, "Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?" Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut.
And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got their donut.
And down the second aisle, till Bro. Christianson came to Scott. When Bro.
Christianson asked, "Scott do you want a donut?"
perspiration coming out around his brow. Bro. Christianson started down the third row. Now the students were beginning to get a little angry.
Scott's reply was, "Well, can I do my own pushups?"
Bro. Christianson said, "No, Steve has to do them."
Then Scott said, "Well, I don't want one then."
Bro. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, "Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn't want?"
Steve started to do ten pushups. Scott said, "HEY! I said I didn't want one!"
Bro. Christianson said, "Look, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don't want it." And he put a donut on Scott's desk.
Now by this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little. He just stayed on the floor between sets because it took too much effort to be getting up and down. You could start to see a little
Bro. Christianson asked Jenny, "Jenny, do you want a donut?"
Jenny said, "No."
Then Bro. Christianson asked Steve, "Steve,would you do ten pushups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn't want?" Steve did ten, Jenny got a donut.
By now, the students were beginning to say "No" and there were all these uneaten donuts on the desks. Steve was also having to really put forth a lot of effort to get these pushups done for each donut.
There began to be a small pool of sweat on the floor beneath his face, his arms and brow were beginning to get red because of the physical effort involved.
During class, however, some students had wandered in and sat along the heaters along the sides of the room. When Bro. Christianson realized this; he did a quick count and saw 34 students in the room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it.
Bro. Christianson went on to the next person and the next and the next. Near the end of that row, Steve was really having a rough time. He was taking a lot more time to complete each set.
Steve asked Bro. Christianson, "Do I have to make my nose touch on each one?"
Bro. Christianson thought for a moment, "Well, they're your pushups. You can do them any way that you want."
And Bro. Christianson went on.
A few moments later, Jason came to the room and was about to come in when all the students yelled, "NO! Don't come in! Stay out!"
Jason didn't know what was going on. Steve picked up his head and said, "No, let him come."
Bro. Christianson said, "You realize that if Jason comes in you will have to do ten pushups for him."
Steve said, "Yes, let him come in."
Bro. Christianson said, "Okay, I'll let you get Jason's out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?"
"Steve, will you do ten pushups so that Jason can have a donut?" Steve did ten pushups very slowly and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.
Bro. Christianson finished the fourth row, then started on those seated on the heaters. Steve's arms were now shaking with each pushup in a struggle to lift himself against the force of gravity. Sweat was dropping off of his face and, by this time, there was not a dry eye in the room.
The very last two girls in the room were cheerleaders and very popular. Bro. Christianson went to Linda, the second to last, and asked, "Linda, do you want a doughnut?
Linda said, very sadly, "No, thank you."
Bro. Christianson asked Steve, "Steve, would you do ten pushups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn't want?"
Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow pushups for Linda. Then Bro. Christianson turned to the last girl, Susan. "Susan, do you want a donut?"
Susan, with tears flowing down her face, asked, "Bro. Christianson , can I help him?"
Bro. Christianson, with tears of his own, said, "No, he has to do it alone, Steve, would you do ten pushups so Susan can have a donut?"
As Steve very slowly finished his last pushup, with the understanding that he had accomplished all that was required of him, having done 350 pushups, his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.
Brother Christianson turned to the room and said. "And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, plead to the Father, "Into thy hands I commend my spirit." With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, he collapsed on the cross and died. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten.”
Students didn’t reject the doughnuts because they were angry or apathetic. They rejected the doughnuts because they didn’t feel worthy of the effort Steve was making. When we think, “I don’t want to make him do more push-ups”, we really are thinking “I am not worth ten more push-ups. I have not earned the reward from the pain he will suffer.”
Grace is not the absence of God’s high expectations. Paul, in Romans 6 says “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” Jesus likewise says in Matthew 5: 48 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Grace is the presence of God’s power. It is His power to change imperfect beings into something greater.
[Ether 12: 27]