I once had occasion to be a commission salesman. There were times when the job paid quite well. But then there were lean times when, having not sold a thing, I had no revenue coming in. Those were scary times.
I remember one Saturday morning. I got up early. My mind had been reeling in the night worrying about making sufficient money. I read the scriptures, said my prayers and determined that I’d fast and pray that I might have a good day in the sales department. I told Heavenly Father as much. I informed him that it was my intention to fast and pray that day. In my prayer I implied that I was willing to starve myself and go thirsty during a hot day on the lot and that considering that sacrifice, it was only fitting that God grant me some sales. At this point I got a very different answer to my prayers than I expected.
The Spirit whispered to me something to this effect, “I thought fasting was meant to assist you in learning to submit your will to that of the Father. Instead, it appears that you are seeking to put God on a guilt trip. Do you really intend to use your fast as a means to inflict your will upon God? Do you really intend to manipulate the Father?”
On that occasion I was duly chastened and went about my fast in an entirely different and more productive fashion. This was no small event for me. It was an epiphany of life changing proportions. It changed the way I’ll fast, forever more. More importantly, it set me on a course of seeking to know and do the will of the Father continually.
It was one thing to sit back and let God drive. It was quite another to seek his will and to deliberately, aggressively attempt to accomplish it.
Sign seeking is a manipulative activity. It is a negotiating procedure intended to get the recipient what he wants. Like all manipulation, it ends up backfiring in one’s face. Take Sherem for example; or Korihor. They were using the challenge for a sign to prove their own ends. They had no desire to change their position, but rather used the challenge with the intent of strengthening their position.
It was not so for Gideon, who was seeking a sign of assurance, not delivering a challenge to disprove his skeptical position. It was plain that Gideon was a believer and that he fully intended to do what was asked of him. Gideon’s question was concerning his own capabilities and whether or not he was adequately able to receive revelation by the still small voice. He heard the message but wanted assurance that he’d interpreted it correctly. In his humble and inadequate state, he couldn’t imagine that God would want someone as weak as he to do such important work. He was willing to go to the ends of the earth if that was truly what God wanted of him. He just needed to be sure that such was truly what God wanted.
Again, entirely different than the sign seeking Sherem or Korihor were engaged in.
Helaman sought and received assurances before taking his stripling army into battle. The 16 glowing stones of the Jaredites surely assured them that God was with them, not unlike the pillar and cloud that stood before Israel in the Wilderness. Those manifestations were all intended for comfort and guidance to those who were willing to do the will of God and just needed a little encouragement to help them overcome the weakness of the flesh. There was no manipulation in them, or in those who looked to them for strength.
While God clearly hopes we’ll have thought our position through and that we be prepared to defend it, He is not in the haggling, negotiating for the best deal, business. As a good friend puts it, “God isn’t running a Trading Post.” He knows what’s best and is uncompromising in His position of truth and wisdom. This is not to say that He cannot be negotiated with. Joseph Smith and Martin Harris, for reasons of personal advantage, negotiated with God until he granted that the Book of Mormon manuscript be shown to scholars. It appears that He did so because Joseph especially, need more work in the trust and surrender department. I don’t think Heavenly Father would have budged, had the consequences reached into the lives of innocent others. While it might have, God, in his wisdom had long before planned to keep the damage confined to those for whom the lesson was intended.
The Father doesn’t manipulate us; neither should we attempt to manipulate Him. Manipulation is the devil’s tool; not God’s.
The Lord doesn’t do guilt trips; that lies in Satan’s realm and satisfies his selfish purposes. God invites us to follow. He allows us the choice. He does provide consequences but not to somehow satisfy Him; but rather to satisfy justice. God doesn’t brow beat us and encourage us to feel shame and guilt. Rather, He invites us to let Him help us clean up our messes and escape from shame and guilt.
I did not always see things that way. Having been raised by manipulators I quite naturally attributed those same characteristics to God. It is the most natural thing in the world to assume that God is somehow just like our mortal parents. The thing is, the natural man is an enemy to God. If our parents are manipulators, chances are we assume God is too. Let me assure you He is not a manipulator. His work and his glory are to bless his children, not to bring credit and honor to His own name. He was willing to sacrifice His only begotten Son for the express purpose of facilitating our freedom, growth and development; for our benefit, not His. In doing so God rejected the manipulative plan of Lucifer whose only object was to aggrandize himself. When we as parents exercise unrighteous dominion over our children we are exercising manipulation and are re-subscribing to a plan and method we once rejected. In doing so we are not following the example of our Eternal Parent.