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Remember how our parents would teach us rules when we were young? Rules like not playing in the street or not playing with matches. Remember how sometimes the rules seemed like a burden, like our parents must have invented them to keep us from doing the things we really wanted to do—the things we thought would make us happy? As we grow up we learn how important these rules are, how we could have been seriously injured or even killed if we had not obeyed.
Like our parents growing up, God gives us commandments to help keep us focused on what is most important and how to stay safe. All of His guidance is meant to keep us safe, help us stay close to Him and, in the end, to give us more freedom and happiness.
The word "commandment" might make us think of the Ten Commandments—a list of "Thou Shalt Nots"—God does not only tell us what we should not do, but He also tells us what we should do. His greatest hope is for our eternal happiness, so we can be sure that His commandments are not restrictive rules, but they are divine guidance meant to protect us from harm and lead us to better ways of living.
Our obedience to God's commandments comes from our desire to show our love for Him, for our fellow human beings, and for ourselves. While Jesus Christ was on earth, a man asked him, "Which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus replied,
Jesus Christ teaches us in these few lines that at the heart of all these "do's and don'ts" is a focus on loving God and loving the people around us. As we think about the commandments listed below, it helps to consider how each of them relates to these two foundational commandments.
Anyone can pray, anywhere and at any time. Whether we're kneeling, sitting or standing, praying out loud or silently, praying in groups or by ourselves, God will hear and answer us. Prayer is so easy and so simple we might not appreciate what a privilege it is. It is a direct line of communication with our Heavenly Father who wants to help us with all of our problems and questions. Though He may not always answer right away or in a way we expect, we believe the scriptures when they say, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Matthew 7:7).
We are commanded to pray often because the more we speak with God; the more open we will be to His guidance through the challenges we face. This is an example of how the blessings of the commandment far outweigh the effort they require.
Most scripture was written more than a thousand years ago, so it can be hard to imagine how reading them can help us here and now. But since God's wisdom is timeless, we can read the scriptures and apply their lessons to our own lives. Maybe we get a promotion at work that we are excited about but also nervous we won't be able to fulfill. This might seem like a purely secular anxiety—one for which we would not be able to find help in the scriptures—but the account of God calling Enoch to prophesy might help us deal with our fear. After God asked him to command the wicked people around him to repent, Enoch humbly asks, "Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad [ … ]; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?" The Lord reassures Enoch, saying, Moses 6:31-32
Enoch does what the Lord commands and becomes an eloquent prophet, helping his people change their hearts. His trial teaches us that God will help us develop the ability to do things we didn't know we could, as long as we use our faith in Him.
The commandment to study the scriptures is much like the commandment to pray often. God wants us to read His words because they help us know His will, and following God's will is always in our best interest. The scriptures contain the things God has revealed to His children through prophets.
In this day and age, Sunday has started to feel like any other day. Many of us have to work, and after that we try to get everything else done that we didn't get done on Saturday. It seems like the weekend feels busier than the rest of the week. But Sunday, or the Sabbath, is a time to worship God and to give us a rest from our day-to-day obligations. After creating the earth in six days, God set the seventh aside as a day of rest and remembrance. On Sunday we can spend time with friends and family, visit the sick or lonely, spend extra time studying the scriptures and go to Church. At Church we sing, pray, and discuss the gospel with the other members of the congregation and we also take the sacrament in remembrance of the Savior. At Church Mormons participate in the sacrament by eating bread and drinking water that was prepared to symbolize the body and blood of Jesus Christ. We can take that time to meditate on how Jesus Christ can help us and think about how we can better keep the covenants we have made with Him.
Besides giving us a rest from the stresses of the workweek, keeping the Sabbath day holy shows respect for God and reminds us to slow down our busy lives to give thanks to our Creator. Sunday is a day to look forward to, one when we get to enjoy the things that really matter.
One of the purposes of baptism is to symbolically wash away our sins, but even Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life, was baptized. Jesus was baptized because it is a commandment and he wanted to provide a perfect example of obedience to Heavenly Father’s divine guidance.
The ordinances of baptism and confirmation are a way for us to show that we are willing to take the name of Jesus Christ upon us, which means to become Christians and do our best to always live accordingly. First, we are baptized by being lowered under water and raised back up by a person who has authority from God to do so. This action symbolizes Jesus Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, and it also represents the end of our old lives and beginning a new life as His disciples. After we are baptized, a person with authority puts his hands on our heads, gives us the right to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and confirms us members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Have you ever heard one person tell one side of a story, then heard another person tell the opposite side, and both versions sound true? With so many people and opinions competing for our attention, how do we decide what to believe? To help us know His will—to help us figure out what is true—God calls prophets and apostles to act as His spokesmen. A prophet is a faithful, righteous man chosen by God to speak for Him here on earth. Apostles are prophets chosen by God to be special witnesses of Jesus Christ and His divinity. In order to speak for God, prophets and apostles must have the priesthood, or divine authority, required for such a holy responsibility.
God has called prophets throughout history. In the Bible we read about prophets like Adam, Abraham, Moses, Paul and many others. We believe that God has also called prophets to lead us today. Joseph Smith was the first prophet called in the current dispensation, or generation, of the Church, and there has been a prophet on the earth ever since. The man called to speak for God and lead His church today is named Thomas S. Monson.
By asking us to follow the prophets, God is really asking us to stay close to Him, just like when he asks us to pray often and read the scriptures. Listening to the prophets helps us learn or re-learn what we need to do to accept Jesus Christ's Atonement and become worthy of all the blessings God wants to give us. God promises that those who follow the prophets "are heirs of the kingdom of God" (Mosiah 15:11).
After Moses led the children of Israel out of captivity, he went to the top of Mount Sinai and spoke with God. When Moses came back down the mountain, he had Ten Commandments the Lord had revealed to him engraved on stone tablets. We follow those commandments today, thousands of years later.
The power of procreation is a sacred part of God’s plan. It's an expression of love and allows husband and wife to create life. God has commanded that this power and privilege of a sexual relationship only exist between a man and woman who are legally married. This commandment is called the law of chastity. It requires abstinence from sex before marriage and complete fidelity and loyalty to our spouses after marriage. God expects us to keep our thoughts clean and be modest in our dress, speech, and actions (Matthew 5:27–28). We must also avoid viewing pornography and engaging in homosexual relations.
We understand that the principles of the law of chastity set The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints apart and may sound strict to the rest of the world, yet great blessings of peace, self-respect, and self-control come from obeying this commandment.
The things we do and don't consume are some of the most visible markers of our faith, and they come from our belief that our bodies are precious gifts from God. We believe He has given us guidance about how best to take care of them. He revealed a law of health, called the Word of Wisdom, to Joseph Smith in 1833. The Word of Wisdom prohibits the drinking of alcohol, coffee and tea, and the use of tobacco. It also implies that we not use illegal drugs or abuse prescription drugs.
The Word of Wisdom also encourages us to eat plenty of the fruits and vegetables that are in season, plenty of grains and a moderate amount of meat. It reminds us to eat these things "with prudence and thanksgiving" (Doctrine and Covenants 89:11). Besides this explicit guidance, the Church teaches us to generally lead healthy lives by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and avoiding extreme diets. The Word of Wisdom shows us that God is concerned with our physical health as well as our spiritual health. By discouraging the use of things that can be habit-forming, it emphasizes how important our free will is. When we are addicted to something like smoking or drinking—and this is also true of any other addictive behavior—we become subject to that thing. We have a diminished ability to make our own decisions and control our own lives.
Since our purpose in coming to earth is to learn and grow by making our own decisions, we can see why God would ask us to stay away from things that hinder our free will. When we keep the Word of Wisdom, God promises us not only better health, but also "wisdom and great treasures of knowledge" (Doctrine and Covenants 89:19). Living the Word of Wisdom is a key to help us receive the guidance of God’s Spirit.
Giving back a part of what the Lord blesses us with lets us contribute to His work on earth. Paying tithing means giving a tenth of our income to the Church to be used for the work of God here on earth. Some people think it sounds like a hardship but it’s not—it’s a blessing. Since ancient times, God has asked his people to keep the law of tithing.
Ten percent of our income may sound like a lot, especially to many of us who already feel like we're living on the edge of our budgets. But if we keep the law of tithing God promises to "open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (Malachi 3:10).
A blessing can take on many forms. Sometimes we are simply blessed to be able to do more with less, to find ways to save money that don't detract from our happiness. Often the simple act of taking ten percent out of our paycheck causes us to budget out the remaining ninety percent more carefully, and living by a budget always makes money go further. Whatever form the blessing takes, paying tithing reminds us that the things of God last longer than the things of the world. It helps to remember, also, that everything we have comes from God and we can show our gratitude to Him by giving a small part back.
Once a month, God asks us to fast, or forego food and water for two meals. If there are issues with health or age (such as the very young) fasting can be modified to fit individual circumstances. But fasting without prayer, some say, is just going hungry. We pick a specific need or question we have and pray for help while we fast. Moses, David, Esther, Jesus and many others fasted in order to be closer to God and more receptive to His guidance. We find that when we fast and pray with faith we are more humble and more able to feel God's love and understand His will. Fasting also shows that we are willing and able to control the desires of our bodies, which can help us when other trials require that kind of strength.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sets aside the first Sunday of every month as a time when members are asked to fast. We are encouraged to make a fast offering on these days, which is a monetary donation (at least equal to the value of the two meals) that goes to help the poor who need food or shelter. In this way the law of fasting reminds us not only that God is our Father in Heaven who will answer whenever we call, but also that the people around us are our brothers and sisters, and that
We believe in obeying the laws of the country in which we live (Articles of Faith 1:12). Mormons are counseled to be good citizens, to participate in civil government and the political process, and to serve our communities as active, concerned citizens.
God does not want us to follow His divine
guidance blindly or out of fear of punishment. He wants us to exercise intelligent obedience
of our own free will. We need to gain our own witness, or belief, that the commandments
really come from Him and help us live happier lives. To obtain this witness, we have to use
faith. We have to have a real desire, and we have to be willing to do the work necessary to
know these things.
In the Book of Mormon, Heavenly Father makes the following promise:
We can know for ourselves that these things are true. When we know that something is true, we will want to live accordingly for the rest of our lives. The commandments won't feel like arbitrary rules from a detached God. They'll feel like divine guidance that helps us navigate the confusion of life on earth. We will see the benefits of following this guidance in our day-to-day lives and we will feel a stronger sense of peace and spirituality.