A few years ago, a friend of mine shared this verse with me: "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." Proverbs 27:17 I think about that phrase from time to time. It is important to note that this friend is not LDS. She is, however, very devoted to her own religion. Over the past few years I have come to realize that her influence in my life has been powerful. Her perspectives have given me new insights and understanding into my own religion. Her devotion has left me feeling ashamed of my own spiritual laziness. She isn't the only friend who has done this for me.
When I look back at some of the turning points in my testimony growth, I see several members of other faiths. Why? Why are non-LDS playing such a pivotal role in my spiritual growth?
For one thing, Latter-Day Saints don't corner the market on testimony. I have been really humbled to realize how strongly devoted many other Christians are despite their "limited knowledge and understanding". And they are richly blessed for it! No wonder they find Mormons arrogant and insulting when we try to tell them they are wrong!
The truth is, those amazing, inspired, devout children of a loving Heavenly Father are blessed for their obedience. D&C 130:20-21 says "There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." That means that those faithful children are blessed for their obedience. Simple as that.
It is like when I tell my children to clean a room. I am gushing over the toddler who puts a book on the shelf, even if it is upside down. But I expect more of the 8 year old. My 11 year old may cry fowl when he sees the mistakes of his younger siblings but sometimes he has done nothing of value while they have made small efforts.
I believe our Heavenly Father is the same way. He blesses those who try. The comparison goes further if we read D&C 82:3. "For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation." (This is also in Luke 12:48, Matthew 25:29, and James 4:17). Just as I expect more of my older children who have more knowledge and experience, our Heavenly Father also requires more of us and is more disappointed with us for our negligence.
This is what really gets me. I know that sometimes I am a slacker. I also know that I am not alone among the Latter-Day Saints. Why is it that we are so easily sidetracked when we should know better?
There are lots of reasons. For one things, we are kind of a closed society. We tend to shun those who are not part of our crowd. The problem is that when one in the group makes a mistake that might be seen as cool, it is easy for the others to follow. It seems to be human nature to look for permission to do the wrong thing. When I was in Primary a child once said "going for ice cream" was an appropriate Sunday activity. WHy? Becasue another family in the ward went out for ice cream every Sunday after church as part of their "family time". While their actions may heve been well-meaning, think of the many activiteis that might be justified on the Sabbath under the guise of "family time".
I have found myself watching movies or reading books becasue other members recommened them, only to be disappointed in the language or content. When I say I didn't like it I often hear "I guess it doesn't suit your tastes." Is violence, vulgarity and profanity really a matter of taste?
During the years I lived in Utah it seemed that the young people there had this attitude: "How can I have fun without drinking, smoking, doing drugs or having sex?" The answer was pranks. vandalism, risk-taking, and just plain stupidity. Sometimes there was imitation sin like drinking non-alcoholic versions of popular drinks. In most cases, this eventually led to the real thing.
It saddens to realize that I sometimes enjoy the company of non-members who are devoted to their faith over fellow Mormons who are not so devoted. But the church is still true. We have more light and therefore more potential for blessings and growth. We need to take advantage of that. We need to share it. Even if our friends don't join the church we can have a powerful, positive influence on them. Just as my friend's devotion inspired me, I have been able to influence her.
We can also influence other members of the church for good. If this is the true church, doesn't that mean that Satan is working hardest against us? Wouldn't he try hardest to bring us down, lead us away from the things we should be doing? Life is not easy for Latter-Day Saints. We are different. We are in the minority. But we can do wonderful things for one another and the world. We need to encourage, uplift, edify...that really sounds familiar doesn't it? I think we might have been hearing that in conference and sacrament meeting and reading it in the scriptures for, I don't know, 180 some years. Heavenly Father knows what he is talking about. (Shocker, huh?) If we trust him and do what he tells us, great things will happen. We will strengthen one another. educate one another, 'sharpen our countenances' so that we can defend ourselves and others against spiritual attack.
But we have to want to be sharpened. If I go to church thinking I already know it all, I will not get anything out of it. And I won't give anything either. I have met people who say that we don't relaly need "church" we just need to obey. In theory taht might be true, at elast to a point. But if we go to church for that sharpening we need. Being with others who are faithful is like a respite from the battle against the sinful world. It prepares us for whatever we might face during the week.
How have you sharpened the "Irons" around you? How have you been sharpened?