Sunday, September 18, 2011

Agency or Inspiration: A Guide to Making Life's Decisions


We are all faced with so many decisions each day. Some are of lesser consequence but some are of extreme importance to us personally and to our eternal salvation and happiness. A lot of us stress over jobs, where and what to study, how to deal with people and what to do in our relationships, and a multitude of other things.

In the midst of these life-changing decisions and stressors, the Lord has not left us comfortless or helpless. He who knows all things, who is omniscient and knows what is best for us, has given us the Holy Ghost that we may be directed for good. "Assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive . . ." (Doctrine and Covenants 8:1).

In an address given at Brigham Young University on February 27, 1973, Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915-1985) taught about revelation and how the Lord directs us through the Holy Ghost. The talk, entitled, "Agency or Inspiration--Which?," explains the balance of being directed by the Lord and using our own God-given agency to make decisions. Taught Elder McConkie, "There's a fine balance between agency and inspiration. We're expected to do everything in our power that we can, and then to seek an answer from the Lord, a confirming seal that we've reached the right conclusion; and sometimes, happily, in addition, we get added truths and knowledge that we hadn't even supposed."

Elder McConkie quotes a number of verses from the scriptures which each explain a different part of how we are to both use our agency to make decisions and rely on the Holy Ghost for revelation. The verses I wish to highlight are these:

In these verses the Lord makes promises, explains the means by which these promises are fulfilled, and outlines the actions we must take in order to apply the promises to ourselves. The promises found in these verses are:
  1. that we shall receive a knowledge of whatsoever things we shall ask in faith (Doctrine and Covenants 8:1),
  2. that the Lord will direct us for good,
  3. and that we shall be lifted up at the last day (Alma 37:37).
The means by which He fulfills these promises are:
  1. that He will tell us in our minds and in our hearts by the Holy Ghost (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2; Alma 5:46),
  2. and that our bosom shall burn within us and we shall feel that it is right OR that we shall have no such feelings and have a stupor of thought that we forget the thing which is wrong (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8-9).
And the action points that we must do in order to experience these promises and their inherent blessings:
  1. ask in faith (Doctrine and Covenants 8:1),
  2. study it out in our minds (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8),
  3. use our own judgement and counsel between ourselves and the Lord (Doctrine and Covenants 58:25; Alma 37:37),
  4. be anxiously engaged in a good cause and bring to pass much righteousness (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27),
  5. keep the commandments,
  6. cry unto the Lord for all our support,
  7. let all our thoughts be directed unto the Lord (Alma 37:35-36),
  8. fast and pray with a purpose (Alma 5:46).
Lessons learned from the Jaredites

Elder McConkie also talks about a story found in the Book of Mormon in which a people were commanded to cross the sea before them in order to be led to a "promised land." From this account we learn of three ways in which they dealt with the challenges that faced them in crossing the ocean. We, too, can use these methods in dealing with the challenges and decisions that face us in our own lives. (See Ether chapters 2 and 3).

Their leader, known in the scriptures as the brother of Jared, was commanded to build barges, "that they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands . . . ." When faced with this first challenge, the brother of Jared used the knowledge and skills and talents he had already acquired and developed to do as he was commanded and built airtight barges, "after the manner of barges which [he] had hitherto built."

The next two challenges the brother of Jared faced, he approached the Lord in prayer, saying, "O Lord, in [the barges] there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish."

In answer to the problem concerning air, the Lord simply gave the brother of Jared the solution, "Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood."

To the problem concerning light, however, the Lord did not simply give the brother of Jared a solution. Instead, the Lord replied, "What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?" With this challenge, the Lord expected the brother of Jared to come up with a solution and then ask for assistance, which is what the brother of Jared did. He found sixteen small stones that were transparent like glass and asked the Lord, "O Lord, thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they might shine forth in darkness; . . . that we may have light while we shall cross the sea."

In this story, the brother of Jared demonstrated three ways in which we can and should deal with our challenges and decisions.
  1. We go and do, using our own knowledge and skills and talents with which we have been blessed.
  2. We ask for direction and the Lord gives it to us.
  3. We ask for direction and the Lord expects us to be creative and resourceful, to use our skills and knowledge, and then come to Him with a solution before He will help us.
I close with the words of Elder McConkie:

"God grant us wisdom in these things. God grant us the courage and the ability to stand on our own feet and use our agency and the abilities and capacities we possess; then let's be sufficiently humble and amenable to the Spirit to bow our will to his will, to get his ratifying, confirming seal of approval, to get in our lives, in that way, the spirit of revelation. And if we so do, there's no question about the result: it's peace in this life; it's glory and honor and dignity in the life to come. Which may God grant for all of us."

We each face decisions and challenges that effect our eternal salvation and happiness. The Lord has given us the means to properly and effectively deal with each of these challenges and make the right decisions that will bring happiness and eternal life.