“Not My Will, But Thine, Be Done”
As we commemorate our risen Lord this Easter, let us reflect on how we, through perfection in Christ, can align our will with that of the Father.By Geoff Openshaw
We often discuss Christ being perfect. Indeed, He was. His brief thirty-three years of mortality are without blemish. He was the firstling of the flock – the Only Begotten of the Father, perfect, select, whole. Yet even in his perfection, in order for the Lord to fully atone for each and every one of us, He needed to understand how it felt to be fraught with weakness, disappointment, temptation, and even exhaustion. As Latter-day Saints, we generally opt not to focus on His intense suffering, instead putting emphasis on the glory of His resurrection; but we are right to still note what our Lord endured physically, emotionally, and spiritually, for it gives us perspective. It allows us to better comprehend how we, in our imperfect state, are given the promise of exaltation through Jesus.
Following Christ’s final meal with his disciples, he ventured to Gethsemane, instructing his disciples to “sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.”[i] The Lord, surely burdened by his knowledge of the impending betrayal of Judas and show trial before the Sanhedrin, knelt a stone’s throw away, completely alone. What followed is remarkable, for in everything the Lord had endured and would yet endure, he was constantly unflinching. He did not yield to the tempter’s pressure while fasting in the desert. He did not deny being the Son of God in order to appease the Pharisees. Boldly, He told Pontius Pilate that His kingdom was one not of the world. But there, alone, communicating with the Father, He uttered those famous words: “…Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”[ii] The words of Mark are similar to those just recited from Luke, but with slight variation: “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”[iii]
I mention these distinctions to demonstrate the commonalities between the accounts of Christ’s ministry, and also some of the subtle ways scriptures can take on special meaning based on just a few words alone. I love the words of Mark, for his is the only version of this account in which Christ calls his Father, Abba, which is a personal, familial Aramaic word for “father.” It implies intimacy.
And in that intimacy, what is the Lord’s plea? He begs that the “cup” can be taken from him. Jesus, in experiencing everything that we experience, also needed to experience hesitation and fear. But despite what can easily be seen as the desperate cry from a son to a father for clemency, it was a fleeting moment, and being the perfect example that He is, He did not shirk. He did not cower before the task at hand.
Jesus had all power to stop what would happen to him. He had every ability to send Pilate packing and provide the assumed political deliverance of Israel. Instead, knowing that the entire plan of salvation, dating from the premortal council itself, was in the balance, Christ offered himself as a willing sacrifice so that we may not be permanently subjected to physical and spiritual death. He did this for each and every one of us, knowing us by name.
A study of the Atonement yields numerous valuable lessons, but one of the most important pieces of instruction that we can apply is to align our will with God’s through overcoming our own desires and taking corrective action through obedience. After all, a knowledge of the Savior is rendered moot if we do not follow his most basic counsel, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”[iv]
Obtaining the desire to have our own will swallowed up in the Lord’s really comes down to the storied enemy of humility – pride. One of the adversary’s best tactics is to either make us rebel against God, or simply to assume that our current station is sufficient, as if expecting anything more from us is tantamount to inconvenience. Indeed, complacency and pride are inexorably intertwined. When describing Satan’s power over us, the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi taught that “…others will he pacify; and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yeah, Zion prospereth, all is well – and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.”[v]
This notion of “all is well in Zion” fascinates me, and there are countless statements by modern prophets on the dangers of spiritual lethargy. President Joseph Fielding Smith states that many of us “slip along easily through this life, keeping the commandments of the Lord indifferently – accepting some of the doctrines and not the others, … failing to understand and comprehend our duty to them – and then expect to receive a fullness of glory in the kingdom of God.”[vi]
Now brothers and sisters, I don’t say any of this due to any sort of aberrant nature of our ward. I see in everyone here a genuine desire to follow Christ. But even with genuine desire comes human weakness and obliviousness. I mention these forms of pride and lethargy because of how dangerous they are to us. For how can we be swallowed up in Christ if our ego is too big to consume? Christ showed us that he is the way, the truth and the life,[vii] and if we are willing to find our own quiet moment with Heavenly Father and take inventory, we can ask ourselves where we have ease in aligning our will with that of the Father, and where we struggle. It is different for each and every one of us, which further illustrates how the Atonement is tailored to all of us on a personal level.
Like many other young single adults, I moved to DC without a job. I was ready for the big time, eager to fulfill my mandate of professional domination. But success just did not come. Chalk it up to myriad factors, not least of which was likely my naiveté and ineffectiveness as a candidate, and I spent far longer in the job market, either unemployed or underemployed, than I ever could have imagined.
Now, Heavenly Father wants me to have a job. He wants me to progress. He wants me to have financial security. So I often wondered to myself, what more could I possibly do? But as weeks turned to months, and months to even over a year, something had to give. I realized that I was looking for work on my own terms, based on what I thought I deserved, and under conditions that I had set for myself. I had not been willing to humble myself and take the low road to achieve my goals. Only when I was near emotional and financial exhaustion did I start to realize that my own pride had kept me from progressing.
Relentlessly, I went after work with temp agencies. I applied for jobs at retail outlets and even McDonald’s. I managed to snag a job wrapping gifts at FedEx. Interestingly, only after interviewing for, and signing on to the $10/hr FedEx job in Fort Belvoir (I lived in Old Town) – not exactly a close or seemingly worthwhile commute – was there deliverance.
I was ready to start my job earning what I regarded as a pittance. My pride was certainly wounded, but it was this or nothing. The day before I was slated to start, however, the temp agency called me and informed me about a long-term assignment with permanent potential with an international development company. I have no doubt that the Lord opened this door only after I allowed myself to be brought low. I did have to burn some bridges with the kind people at FedEx, but the new opportunity blossomed into the job I have today, giving me a sense of pride, worth, and happiness in being able to contribute to my young marriage.
Recognizing the influence of the Spirit in understanding God’s will can be very difficult. We throw around many terms in the Church – a still small voice, a burning in the bosom, clarity of thought – and while these are all valid, it doesn’t make the task of spiritual discernment any easier, at least not at first. How do we know when it is actually God’s that will we are fulfilling?
The Savior himself taught, “…I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory. And to them will I reveal all my mysteries, yeah, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.”[viii] Through obedience to the great commandment – loving the Lord and keeping his commandments – we are entitling ourselves to receive more potent and discernible revelation. And as we employ what we receive, we strengthen our spiritual receptors, thus enable the cycle to continually refine itself.
Another key way to recognize God’s will is through scripture. Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught that “…scriptures enlarge our memory by helping us always to remember the Lord and our relationship to Him and the Father.”[ix] We were not present to observe the Sermon on the Mount or to see the suffering in Gethsemane and atop Golgotha. We were not able to personally witness the supernal announcement from the angels at the tomb that Jesus had risen from the dead. We didn’t have seats for the First Vision or closed-circuit footage of the miracles brought about and truths restored in the Kirtland Temple. We only know of these and other accounts through the writings of inspired leaders. Just as Paul taught to the Corinthians, every word is established by the mouth of two or three witnesses.[x] The scriptures serve as these witnesses, and the divinely-inspired translation of the Book of Mormon adds further witness to the writings of the Old and New Testaments, and the Doctrine and Covenants gives us direct insight into the work of the Restoration. All told, through God’s love we have thousands upon thousands of pages of scripture to help us understand His will for us.
Building on that, we have a modern prophet. What a remarkable blessing! We are not limited to the scriptures of old when it comes to understanding the will of the Lord. We are privy to the words of living prophets who are just as much in tune to divine counsel as Abraham, Moses, Peter, Nephi, and Joseph Smith.
A few years ago, President Henry B. Eyring gave a talk that moved me, and I still refer to it today. It is called, “Adversity.” In sharing one anecdote, President Eyring tells the story of a young father who had lost his job in the economic crisis. President Eyring recalled the man having a quiet confidence and assurance, which surprised President Eyring, given the difficult and competitive economic climate. The man stated that he had examined his life to be sure he had done all he could to be worthy of the Lord’s help.[xi]
I’ve had to ask myself, have I done all I can do to receive the Lord’s help and be worthy of his blessings? In applying this lesson, I decided to read my scriptures every day, if even just a verse, and test the promises of President Benson – that I would feel the spirit and have a greater ability to resist temptation. I testify to you that those promises are true. I have come to better understand the Lord’s desires for me and worked harder to replace my will with His. I have not been perfect in this undertaking, and I assure you I started taking it all the more seriously again during the aforementioned job struggle. It is a work in progress, but I have seen the fulfillment of a prophetic promise.
When someone asks us what the chief tenets of Mormonism are, I would hope modern-day prophecy ranks in our top three. I doubt it would surprise most of us to discover that many of our friends not of our faith to not understand this rather humongous aspect of the Church.
Desire and Understanding Put to Action
Of course, we must act. We know that “faith without works is dead.”[xii] There is no greater example of the spirit of service and work than Christ. Jesus showed us that he, the Greatest of All, was willing to condescend to the mortal realm to “minister to the humble, despised, despairing, hopeless, and helpless.”[xiii]
There is, perhaps, no passage more moving to me than that of the Savior washing his disciples’ feet. Imagine being among those present, having witnessed the miracles, having observed the gradual fulfillment of the Law of Moses. How could you possibly sit idly by as this great man opted to provide such a symbolic act of service? Indeed, Peter, ever the impetuous one, exclaimed, “Lord, dost thou wash my feet? … Thou shalt never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.”[xiv]
This makes me recall a period on my mission when my first mission president was about to go home. I was nearly three quarters of the way done with my own service. As we held interviews during our final zone conference with the president, I walked into the tiny room at the local chapel greeted by something decidedly out of the ordinary: my mission president, wearing an apron, with a handful of shoe shine kits at his disposal. There was no interview. He merely knelt there, quietly polishing my shoes and thanking me for being my service. I have witnessed countless Christlike moments from others throughout my life, but this one, with its obvious allusions to the Savior’s humble service, has stuck with me for years. I revered my mission president immensely. I felt that I should be polishing his shoes, washing his car, and cleaning his house! But there he was, teaching me one last lesson before his departure.
And in that same way, the Savior taught all of us the value of constant service. While the purpose of the Gospel is to perfect ourselves and return to our Heavenly Father, in a twist of irony, the only way to perfect ourselves is to follow the example of Peter and Andrew – to straightaway leave our nets and follow Christ,[xv] forgetting about ourselves entirely.
In the Allegory of the Olive Tree, the prophet Zenos, as quoted by Jacob, states, “Ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow … until the good shall overcome the bad.”[xvi] I testify to you that it is through Christ that we continually rejuvenate ourselves, clearing away the bad little by little. I know that Christ was not a political agitator who threatened regional stability. His mission was greater than we may ever be able to fully comprehend. His ministry was real. The stories we read in the scriptures are not metaphorical. They happened.
In His triumph over death, we may take refuge. He is the Savior of the world, the Messiah, the true deliverer of Israel as promised from the beginning. We witness in Him the remarkable ability to descend below all things so that we may rise above all things. He perfectly emulates the Father, just as we may also emulate the Father and the Son through our desires and actions. As we follow Christ’s example by giving up our own will and replacing it with the will of the Lord, we will see our lives improve. We will see temporal and spiritual blessings that we could not have otherwise imagined. And we will become more effective tools for the building of the kingdom of God on the earth.
I know that Christ lives and that he suffered, died, and resurrected. I know that he appeared to Joseph Smith to initiate the most incredible restoration of truth the world has ever seen. May we, on this Easter day, have the Savior in our hearts. May we build that relationship with Him is my prayer, in His holy name, Jesus Christ, amen.
[i] Matthew 26:36
[ii] Luke 22:42
[iii] Mark 14:36
[iv] John 14:15
[v] 2 Nephi 28:21
[vi] Doctrines of Salvation, p. 14 as taken from Latter-day Commentary of the Book of Mormon. Compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 160
[vii] John 14:6
[viii] D&C 76:5-7, italics added
[ix] Christofferson, D. Todd. “The Blessing of Scripture.” April 2010.
[x] 2 Corinthians 13:1
[xi] Eyring, Henry B. “Adversity.” April 2009.
[xii] James 2:20
[xiii] Edgley, Richard C. “The Condescension of God.” Dec. 2001
[xiv] John 13:6,8
[xv] Matthew 4:20
[xvi] Jacob 5:66