When I was a 13-year-old Boy Scout, I completed the merit badge for swimming.
One of the requirements was to swim a mile, which I did in a mountain lake during Scout Camp.
I'll never forget the feel of mushy lakebed between my toes as I entered the water, or the stink, or watching for leeches at every turn (clearly I was cut-out for indoor, chlorinated swimming pools ― not nature).
But I did it! I swam a mile and earned my merit badge because I had demonstrated I "knew" how to swim.
Here's the point: my aquatic knowledge was demonstrated by action; I proved I could swim by doing it, not by passing a written test showing understanding of what swimming is.
Thus we see that spiritual "knowledge" is demonstrated by our ability to do something with it. Can we cast out devils? Can we heal the sick? Can we raise the dead? Knowing it can be done is different from knowing how to do it.
Theoretically, let's say, we could complete our PhD dissertation on the mechanics of water displacement; we might become experts, even, able to describe the movement of Michael Phelps as he flies through the pool on the witness stand (i.e., General Conference pulpit); we could have memorized all of the race records and stats (i.e., scriptures) of the great Olympic swimmers in history (i.e. Paul and Peter, etc.) ― but do we KNOW how to swim?
Let's look at a popular verse of scripture that I think we get backwards:
If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
In Sunday School, we quote this verse to imply, for example, that to gain a testimony of tithing we must first pay tithing.
But I don't think the Lord is saying to take the counsel we hear at Church for a test-drive and see how it goes. That would lead to a lot of false starts and back-tracking and collisions when we fail to observe the fruits from such "doing."
No, this is saying something different (which is why, naturally, people want to use it as a stick to get others into doing things that are NOT God's will, claiming they just need to take it on "faith").
The Savior is teaching that pure knowledge is found in doing God's will (not man's); in other words, only those who do the will of God (already) THEN have the ability to judge whether something possesses His "intelligence" (or the light of truth).
And let me suggest that if there's one thing we need to really "know" through the doing of it ― the most important thing of all, which describes the purpose for experiencing mortality ― it is how to love.
We discover a Grand Key of discernment, which is, having experienced the pure love of Christ, and having loved Him, we can then measure all things against His pure, perfect love.
That which is not love is chaff, which we can let go of.
The Key of Discernment
The pure love of Christ is the key to discerning everything. Why? Because something is "of God" and is "good" when it bears His Spirit; and what is God's Spirit, but love?
Look at the connection of "knowing" and "loving" in the following verses:
Scriptural Key No. 1
Hereby know we that we dwell in God, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
For love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
(1 John 4:13, 16, 7)
And if that didn't convince us that the best way to "know" whether something is of God and dwells in His truth is if it possesses His love ― then try this one:
Scriptural Key No. 2
That ye, being rooted ["rooted" shows we're firmly planted; immovable. But "rooted" in what, exactly?] and grounded in love, [standing in the Source of love] may be able to comprehend [discern] what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height [i.e., everything] and to know the love of Christ, [how do we "know" His love?] which passeth knowledge [what "passes" knowledge? What lies beyond knowledge?] that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
Assuming we're convinced to discern in the light of Christ's love, then we can easily spot when something carries another spirit. For example, what is the opposite of love? What is the antithesis of love?
Which spirit is opposed to love, and yet, is the spirit by which we judge all-too-frequently?
The ANTI-Key to Discernment
Jesus retired to a ship on the sea of Galilee and fell asleep after a long day of preaching. A great storm threatened to capsize the boat and His frightened shipmates awoke the Lord and said to Him, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" (Mark 4:38).
Jesus rebuked the wind and calmed the troubled waters with words that could have as easily been intended for the ears of His skittish shipmates, saying, "Peace, be still" (Mark 4:39).
In the quiet that followed, Jesus turned to his followers and posed a question, asking them:
Why are ye so fearful?
Why? Imagine how sheepish the men must have felt who had panicked while the Savior Himself was on board — what in the world did they have to fear?
And what do we have to fear, with Jesus at our side? For what is the great promise of Christ's love? To free us from worry and fear and death.
Perfect love casteth out all fear.
Notice it says "all fear," not just a sliver or portion of it. Because if we're discerning in the spirit of fear and judgment (even just a sliver of it) ― rather than in the Spirit of love and freedom ― chances are, we're going to be deceived.
Friction and Fear
In physics class, we learn that "friction" is a force that offers resistance when one body is in contact with another.
Newton’s first law of motion states that bodies set in motion will stay in motion indefinitely, until acted upon by an opposing force. When the object itself provides the resistance, we call it inertia.
Now imagine a spiritual environment without friction, where spiritual bodies set in motion would stay in motion forever, progressing towards eternal life without hindrance.
However, as Lehi taught, "it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things" (2 Nephi 2:11).
What stands "in opposition" to love? Lehi taught something I have difficulty wrapping my mind around:
If not so [i.e., if there weren't opposition in all things] righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.
(2 Ne. 2:11)
Since discernment is learning to distinguish between good and bad, what "opposes" this ability? How can the very elect, at times, be deceived?
I want to suggest that "fear" serves as the spiritual friction that slows our eternal progression, filling us with doubt until some of us become totally inert.
But while friction (fear) deters our progress, it still plays a necessary role in the Plan, for resistance helps us to build faith as well as muscles.
Love is learning to let go of fear. Only then, free from fear, will we see truly.
Aren't Some Kinds of Fear Good?
"But Tim!" someone objects. "What about when God gives us a 'stupor of thought'? Don't bad feelings warn us something is evil?"
It's surprising how often we confuse fear with the influence of Spirit. Paul proclaimed:
God hath NOT given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
(2 Tim. 1:7)
Why do we attribute feelings of anxiety or apprehension to the Spirit, such as when someone says, "I didn’t feel good about it" ― as though the Spirit were communicating through a case of indigestion?
Sadly, the easiest way for Satan to whisper in our ears is to piggy-back on our natural fears and worries, getting us to confer those feelings with the imprimatur of the Holy Ghost. What a great coup for the devil!
I suppose some of the confusion may stem from D&C Section 9, where the Lord told Oliver Cowdery that a "stupor of thought" would prevent him from translating ancient records incorrectly.
But how can a stupor of thought be compared to the fruit of fear, when God scolds Oliver in His next breath for "fearing"?
But you feared, and the time is past, and it is not expedient now.
The reason this principle is so important is because many of the things the Lord wants us to accomplish are scary. That's why they're called "leaps of faith."
Love is the reason we leap, whereas fear paralyzes our ability to act. Love makes us agents anxiously engaged, whereas fear turns us into objects to be acted upon.
"Can I take that?"
Last night I was talking to my mother, who told me she recently visited a neighbor who is going through some health challenges and was not doing great.
She told the neighbor, "How can I serve you? I don't clean house and I don't do meals. Is there something else you need?"
When the neighbor shrugged, unwilling to impose on anybody, my mom said, "What's your calling in the ward?"
"Activity day leader for the 8-year-olds."
"How about that? Can I take that over for you?"
Okay, I was listening to this story and my first thought was, "What? Mom! You can't just take over someone's calling like that; that's the bishopric's job. You aren't following the proper order of things. There's a chain of command you need to work through if you're going to, you know, release someone from their calling and take it over."
What spirit was I listening to, there?
My mom continued, "She was so relieved. She thanked me over and over, not having to worry about it anymore. I texted the primary leader and said, 'I'm taking over for [so-and-so]. What's the plan for Wednesday night? I'll be there from now on."
I couldn't believe it. You see, my mom was listening to her heart; she was following the Spirit of love rather than fearing to step out-of-bounds. She was following Christ's example.
Faith and fear cannot coexist. When we are afraid, we bury God’s gift. We presume incorrectly; we take counsel from our prejudices and worry about practicalities and what others might think. "Martha, Martha."
My daughter spoke in Church yesterday. In her Sacrament Meeting talk, she said:
"Love means we're not afraid to share our gifts with others, but more importantly, it means we're not afraid when others share theirs' with us."