In Come, Follow Me this week we learn of Stephen, a true type of Christ. He exhibited the qualities the Lord looks for when He calls us on His errands. He was “...of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom…full of faith and power.” (Acts 6:3,8)
Those who came to contend with Stephen were disappointed. “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.” (Acts 6:10).
The most instructive verse as to where the opposition comes from is found in Acts 7:51, “…ye do always resist the Holy Ghost…”
Throughout the scriptures, there is a repeated warning: “the Spirit will not always strive with man” (Genesis 6:3). To strive means to fight vigorously or to make every effort. There are other examples:
The Lord taught the Brother of Jared, “…for ye shall remember that my Spirit will not always strive with man; wherefore, if ye will sin until ye are fully ripe ye shall be cut off…” (Ether 2:15). Nephi prophesied, “and when the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man then cometh speedy destruction…” (2 Nephi 26:11). Mormon beheld the fulfillment of the prophecy: “For behold, the Spirit of the Lord hath already ceased to strive with their fathers; and they are without Christ and God in the world; and they are driven about as chaff before the wind.” (Mormon 5:16).
Stephen saw resistance manifest in the people actually sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling so as not to hear the words of life.
Then, as they had done to Jesus Christ, they falsely accused him, and with mob mentality, brutally slew him. Stephen, to his dying breath, testified of the Savior and tried to be like Him, by forgiving his assassins.
Some will say God does not compel or pressure. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland describes, “…it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds.
Talk about man creating God in his own image! Sometimes—and this seems the greatest irony of all—these folks invoke the name of Jesus as one who was this kind of “comfortable” God. Really? He who said not only should we not break commandments, but we should not even think about breaking them. And if we do think about breaking them, we have already broken them in our heart. Does that sound like “comfortable” doctrine, easy on the ear and popular down at the village love-in?”
God does fight for us, Jesus Christs pleads for and with us. King Benjamin taught, “the natural man is an enemy to God…and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man..” (Mosiah 3:19)
“Yield” and “submit” are fighting words. We need to stop fighting against the Spirit. In jiujitsu, the purpose of the style is not to beat your opponent to a bloody pulp, or hit them in the head until they are unconscious. The point is to gently, firmly place your opponent in a position where they realize if they continue to fight they will lose. If people submit when they feel the pressure on their neck or joints all they have to do is tap out and the hold is released.
How might we be resisting the Spirit?
We see virulent opposition to calls to be humble from those who are puffed up with pride, and there is just as much hostility from bottom-feeders to admonishments to “rise up” and “shake off the dust” (Isaiah 54:2). Many are militantly content with “living beneath their privileges“, as President Dieter F. Uchtdorf describes. A prime example is of people of resisting the Spirit is when we “lift up [our] heads in [our] wickedness” (Alma 30:18), excusing to the nth degree deviations from the straight and narrow way. They justify new tattoos, extra piercings, cups of coffee, R-rated films. So much so that what once was the extravagant jewelry of the prideful, turns to chains that weigh them down to the depths of misery. Mormon describes this condition: “…for their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin.” (Mormon 2:13)
Certainly, there are “active members” of the Lord’s Church who are pushing the envelope in diverse ways, but lest we forget, we have been commanded to “abstain from all appearance of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).
We resist the Spirit by neglecting to pray with our families, texting during the Sacrament, or by fighting with our family members.
By yielding to the Spirit we can have our hearts “right in the sight of God” (8:21). We can not take offense, we can forgive, we can love and serve.
Then the Holy Ghost can guide us to those who are ready to hear the word of God, as Philip was led to the Ethiopian. When we submit to the Lord, we can become instruments in His hands. Ananias was hesitant to bless Saul, given his reputation, but no one is beyond the Lord’s help.
When I was attending college, I had a dispute with a man who I found to be very disrespectful to young women, we had a fight in Church and I stormed away. As I was walking across the grounds, I pulled out the slip of paper that my ministering (then home-teaching) assignments were on. This man’s name was first on the list. I looked skyward and held out my arms and cried out, “really?” He became a close friend.
In Acts chapter 9, we see Saul’s conversion and his subsequent powerful missionary. It seems martyrs often bring about the best converts. Saul witnessed Stephen’s murder and Alma the Elder barely escaped Abinadi’s fate. What is important about Saul’s experience is he did not continue to agonize over his wrongs. He repented and carried on. We resist the Spirit when we indulge in self-pity and think we are worse (or better) than we are. When we turn up the volume on our perceived wrongs, the chips on our shoulders, our anxiety and depression, we tune out the Spirit.
Paul’s soul-question, “what wilt thou have me do?” is one we should continually ask ourselves. If we are not willing to abstain from little things, how could we ever be willing to give our lives if need be for the Lord?
President Uchtdorf exhorted us to “strive to be among those whom the Lord can rely on to hear His whisperings and respond” and, I would add, not resist.
I testify that we can be like Tabitha, and Ananias, Philip, Paul, Peter, and Stephen. We can be like our Savior, Jesus Christ, if we will only say, with Him, “not my will, but Thine be done”.
“Waiting on the Road to Damascus” – President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, April 2011
“That We May Always Have His Spirit to Be with Us” – Elder David A. Bednar, April 2006