Monday, April 16, 2018

John 6:60 - Spiritual Atrophy

Early in His mortal ministry, Jesus became concerned about the commitment of his followers and after feeding the 5000 he taught them doctrines of the kingdom.  However, some, on hearing Him and His doctrine, said,

“This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:60).

We notice a similar statement by Laman and Lemuel when asked to go back to Jerusalem and get the plates from Laban. 

"And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord." (1 Nephi 3:5)

This was a recurring theme with these two brothers.  Later they said:

"And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of speaking to my brethren, behold they said unto me: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear". (1 Nephi 16:1)

So, what makes it hard?  We know from Matthew 11:30 that the yoke of Christ is easy and His burden is light.  Yet we consistently hear people preach from the pulpit how this life is meant to be hard or that we must do hard things.  Most people understand that sudden strenuous physical exercise while living a sedentary lifestyle initially feels difficult.  As we continue to exercise we start to label our workouts as a hard run, easy run, or a recovery day (for example).  This type of cycling through workouts is designed to develop muscular strength and endurance that eventually causes the workout that once seemed hard to be relatively easy.  
A painting by Arnold Friberg depicting Nephi standing near a stone fireplace with one arm outstretched, rebuking his brothers.

So, why do we often label spiritual things as hard?  In most cases I doubt that they are they physically hard.  So, what could it be?  Perhaps it is it that our spirits are so out of shape that we feel the pain of initial use similar to what you would experience when a atrophied muscle is stressed.  This idea of spiritual atrophy was mentioned in a talk by President Hinckley.    

" . . . make a habit of going to the house of the Lord. There is no better way to ensure proper living than temple attendance. It will crowd out the evils of pornography, substance abuse, and spiritual atrophy. It will strengthen marriage and family relations." (Gordon B. Hinckley, "Closing Remarks", April 2005 LDS General Conference)

To avoid this spiritual atrophy we need to exercise our spiritual muscles. Elder Quentin L. Cook gave us this advice.   

"We have approximately 230,000 young people who are currently serving as missionaries or who have returned from missionary service in the last five years. They have developed remarkable spiritual strength and self-discipline that need to be continually exercised, or these qualities will atrophy just like muscles that are not used."  (Quentin L. Cook, "Shipshape and Bristol Fashion", October 2015 LDS General Conference)

Have we turned our personal spirituality into a spectator sport?  Do we, like Monday morning quarterbacks, marvel at the demonstration of spiritual power during general conference by spiritual superstars and then go back to our old habits?  Spiritual sloth won't lead for spiritual power.  There will be no reserve of strength when the real spiritual trials come.  Without the kind of strength that comes from consistent personal spiritual preparation, even the smallest trials will seem to be a "hard thing".