I recently drove cross-country and had the pleasure of listening to a couple of audiobooks. In fact, I have logged nearly 3,000 miles in less than 4 days of traveling, the sort of stuff that leaves your head in a fog and your derriere sore from doing nothing more than navigating a small steering wheel. I listened to a total of 5 audiobooks…each of them more or less good, some more so than others, but nevertheless thought provoking and challenging.
In one of these books – not sure which one – a comment was made by a Christian writer (one whom I enjoyed listening to very much, I might add) regarding the gifts of God. In scripture we find numerous recommendations to seek after various gifts or all gifts. Here are a few of those scriptures:
D&C 46:8 reads: “Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived aseek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given…”
These are perhaps three of the most well known verses which discuss this subject, but there are more. The question I ask is why are we to seek these gifts? Is it to avoid deception, as D&C 46 suggests? Is it to edify the church, as 1 Corinthians 14 describes? Or, is it something entirely different?
An answer to these questions (but, undoubtedly not the only answer) came to me in listening to one of these audiobooks. For all the utility I find in audiobooks, they are devoid of one thing: easily obtainable references. It’s one thing to have a book in front of you and be able to mark passages which you want to go back over later and it’s another thing entirely to have an audiobook which keeps rolling on as you drive through mile after mile of desert and open land. That is an unfortunate thing when you’re trying to convey a message, to journalize a thought that has come to you.
I have occasionally lamented the noticeable lack of spiritual gifts in today’s LDS church. Be it the gift of prophesy, the gift of healing, the gift of tongues, the gift of raising someone for the dead, the ministration of angels or whatever it may be, we simply do not have those gifts present today. Some may argue they are still present, just kept secret from the world. Some may argue they are still present, but with a membership numbering over 13,000,000, those instances are bound to get lost and restricted to local wards and branches. That may be the case in some selective instances, but there’s simply no scriptural injunction that I can find which would parallel these explanations.
Even that being said, our definition of “church” is so skewed as to count “members” and “membership totals.” Calling off these numbers like it’s something to be proud of, something to be recognized for. I remember serving a mission for this church and proudly claiming just how many members we had, like it was a badge of honor of sorts to be a member of a church which had millions of members across the world. It’s like those lovely home teaching reports at month’s end where someone in the Elders Quorum or High Priests group will inevitably say it’s not about stats, but we need to report the statistics nevertheless. So, how many families did you visit this month? Perhaps next time they ask me, I’ll tally up all the conversations I had that month which had to do with spiritual things, tally up all the people I talked to and lay it on them. They’ll probably say, “You only have 3 families you need to visit each month, why are you saying you visited 75 families (or whatever the figure I give them is).” Even then, though, the focus would be on statistics and not relationships. It sort of reminds me of a quote from The Little Prince. In that book – a wonderful diatribe about the insane beliefs we adults cling to – we read this insightful question about numbers:
“Grown-ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: “What does his voice sound like?” “What games does he like best?” “Does he collect butterflies?”. They ask: “How old is he?” “How many brothers does he have?” “How much does he weigh?” “How much money does his father make?” Only then do they think they know him.”
It’s an amazing paradigm, to be sure, and one which has replaced a relationship driven system with a programs – a tithing driven program, a missionary program, a youth program, a young adults program, a primary program, an activities program, a high priests program, a relief society program, a scouting program, a home teaching program, etc. Programs, programs, programs. But, I digress.
The lack of gifts in people (especially myself) is indicative of a much larger issue, which was highlighted in one of these books I was fortunate enough to listen to. That larger issue is this: we can seek for the gifts (whatever they be) all we want and with all our heart. But if we seek for the gifts, covet them, go all out to find them, they’ll never come UNLESS we realize one thing. That one thing is the giver of the gifts.
D&C 88:33 emphasizes this point well by saying:
“For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.”
In other words, “What’s the point of giving a gift to an ungrateful person, one who doesn’t recognize the gift I just gave him? He’s ungrateful for that gift and doesn’t even realize from whom the gift comes from!”
The audiobook stated it more along the lines of this (I’m paraphrasing): Christ is the giver of all gifts. How can we obtain any gift – no matter how well intentioned – if we don’t come to Christ first?
As simple as that sounds, it’s something I’ve never thought of. I always thought I could pray for the gift of dreams, visions, healing, etc.; always thought I could seek after them and covet them all without really seeking Christ, without even thinking about Christ and realizing where the gifts were truly coming from.