“I’ll Guide, but You Must Drive”

By J. Stephen Larsen

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    As a young man, I acquired the idea that if I took care of the Lord’s business, he would take care of me. I’m not sure where I learned such a vague concept, but it appealed to me, so I followed it faithfully for a number of years. It provided the snug insulation I wanted to shield me from the necessity of being cautious and careful. It allowed me to make excuses for minor business mishaps, skirmishes at home, and even major catastrophes. “Surely the Lord is testing me,” I remarked when a business venture failed. “Satan is really after us,” I observed when contention threatened my family.

    Because I felt the Lord would always take care of me, I felt no need to “study it out in [my] mind” (D&C 9:8) before asking God. I felt a quick little prayer would do. I often said, “Father, I’ve done my best to serve you, now I ask that you bless me in this endeavor.” I felt that if I magnified my Church calling, God wouldn’t let me lose my family—that if I put God first, I’d never want financially. I did not understand that by following such a procedure, I was yielding to the spirit of the temptation given to the Savior by Satan: “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” (Matt. 4:6.)

    Finally, as more “tests” came my way, complete with frustration and disappointment, I began to examine my careless attitude. I began to study the scriptures and to prayerfully examine my responsibility for my affairs. The evidence overwhelmingly suggested that God wants us to work out our own plans and actions, always seeking his confirmation that our course is right. A relationship with God is not an alternative to personal effort. It is, rather, a guide along the stairway of growth and understanding, a stairway which we must climb through our personal exertion. As I adopted this new approach, I ordered and took responsibility for my life.

    Later I was driving my family through the canyon for a family home evening activity. As we wound our way among the sharp curves I asked them if they felt I had diligently served the Lord in the preceding week. They all agreed that, as a bishop, I had put in many hours. I asked, “If I have truly sought first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, how many of you have faith that all these things shall be added to me and that God will take care of us?” (See Matt. 6:33.) There was some hesitation at first, then a general agreement that God would do so.

    “Well then,” I replied with cheery confidence, “it has been a hard day and I’m tired of being careful. I think I will just let go of the wheel and let God take us to our destination.” Bedlam broke loose in the car. Four of our five children were embarrassed at having insufficient faith to turn the wheel over to God. The two-year-old’s faith was unshaken—she didn’t care who drove. My wife came to the children’s rescue. “We believe God could get us to our destination, but he has no need to do so. You are already in the driver’s seat. Please keep your hands on the wheel and drive carefully.”

    “Yes,” I said. “Serving God and building his kingdom can be joyous and bring blessings. But it doesn’t excuse us from using judgment and caution in the affairs of life. In fact, we can get additional light on those subjects too. End of lesson.”

    Our lives and circumstances have improved since then, and so has our understanding of God. I no longer need to buoy up my sagging faith with a scriptural excuse for why God let me fail. Instead, I am grateful that he has given us the scriptures, the modern prophets, and the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide us to a higher understanding. Our loving Father will guide us, but he won’t drive for us. He wants better than that for us; he wants us to learn to drive like him, that where he is, we may be also. (See John 14:3.)

    Illustrated by Scott Snow

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    • J. Stephen Larsen, father of six, currently serves as Young Men president in the Bennion Eighth Ward, Bennion Utah East Stake.