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On the Outside Looking In


In mortality we commonly feel on the outside of everything that is important. We feel like foreigners and second-class citizens. We are not alone. The same has been true since this world’s first inhabitant. That is apparently how Zacchaeus felt (Luke 19:2–10) in spite of his wealth and prominence.

And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.

Most of us want to do something important, to make a contribution. Ironically we may be most vulnerable to this temptation when we are most inspired; when we are filled with heavenly fire; we want to change the world.

I will confess. I have wished God would give me a platform from which to share what he has taught me. I have wished to have a grand audience and the Holy Spirit to inspire the preaching. I have wished my books would sell. I have wished I could help move the grand latter-day work forward.

I identify with Alma who cried out “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!” (Alma 29:1). But that is not the way God works. Sometimes it seems that the best we can hope for is to get a passing glimpse of greatness—just like Zacchaeus:

And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.

Little Zacchaeus must have felt small and distant as he perched in that tree. Like him, I would gladly climb a sycamore tree for a glimpse of Jesus. I would love to feel His hands on my head. I would love to look in His eyes. I would rejoice to hear His voice.

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.

A rendezvous with the Lord. A call. An invitation.

And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.

We are not told more about Zacchaeus and his life after that pivotal day. Later he may well have been called to be the membership clerk in the Jerusalem South Branch. His humble calling may have seemed insulting for one who had been chief among the publicans. But, fired by a sense of divine purpose, he must have tended the rolls with purpose and diligence. One day I hope to read The Autobiography of Zacchaeus.

And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.

Yes—that human tendency to judge. Even when Jesus has personally called someone, we wonder if He hasn’t missed something. “Doesn’t Jesus know what kind of fellow Zacchaeus is? Everyone knows he is a grafter.” But Zacchaeus pled for the Lord’s compassion based on his imperfect efforts to be useful and to be right.

And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.

We try very hard—though imperfectly.

And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.

For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

And there is the key to what Heavenly Father keeps trying to teach me. God has not filled the great halls or the bookstore shelves with my work. But when I pray to Him for an opportunity to serve, He sends a mama to me who asks what to do with her boy who still wets his bed. When I beg for a chance to be useful, I get an e-mail from an estranged member of the Church seeking words of hope. When I hunger to be of service, He invites me to bear my testimony to my Gospel Essentials class.

I have wanted to measure spiritual impact on the Richter scale; He measures it in heart beats. For Him, each soul is all of eternity. He would give His life to rescue just one child. His own ministry took place in an obscure corner of the ancient world. Yet it was filled with touching people in their daily lives.

Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10).

I learn so slowly. I hope to be grateful for every opportunity to encourage a mama, offer hope to the hopeless and testimony to the new members of the Little Rock Ward. When I wipe away the smudges of mortal miscalculation, I discover that I see Jesus in Mark’s eyes. I feel Jesus’ grasp as I clasp Larry’s calloused hand. And I hear his voice when new-member Sara says, “I just loves to talk ‘bout Jesus.”

His ways are so different—and so much better—than mine. Who can measure the blessing to get to deliver telegrams of encouragement from the courts on high to His children?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:40)

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8 Comments

  • Reply Candleman February 27, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Thank you for this. It reminded me of something I learned and over time, let drift to the back burner.

    My wife is less active. She hasn’t attended church regularly for 20 years. We married in the temple and started out active but depression and affliction overwhelmed the sweet girl.

    I have remained active, though weak and among the weakest. Still, I have wanted nothing more than to go on a mission in my later years. When I retired my dear wife asked me what I planned to do next. My reply was spiritually manipulative and reflected my grand scheme for my future. I said, “I guess I’ll go back to work somewhere else, unless…..” “Unless what?” “We could go on a mission, they need CES people in the Philippines and my pension is big enough….”

    At that moment I felt the spirit leave me. My dear wife clammed up and went cold. I spent several days wondering what I had done wrong. I struggled, fasted, prayed and one day in the Temple, came to understand. In very plain words, my Heavenly Father instructed me, “If I want you on a mission, I’ll get you on a mission. That is for me to decide. It is a call, after all. You just mind the business of staying near and being worthy. Leave the rest to me.”

    The following day in a meeting we sang that familiar song and I discovered that indeed, “It may not be on the mountain height or over the stormy sea, it may not be at the battle’s front, the Lord will have need of me.”

    That one realization has brought more peace to my heart and to our marriage than I can express. I haven’t a clue what God has in store for me. This much I do know though, it will be fantastic and it will be when, and where, and what He wants for me. Just as it is right now.

  • Reply admin February 28, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    Wow. Sometimes we have to have the faith to trust God with our lives. “He also serves who stands and waits.”

    Have you asked her what she would like to do?

    Blessings to you.

    -Wally

  • Reply Candleman February 29, 2008 at 10:48 am

    Good question. Actually, I have. I can see how that could easyly be an overlooked approach.

    Her desire is to travel. Anywhere, away from obligation and expectation, her biggest source of angst. Gratefully, she wants to travel with me, telling me that she doesn’t view me as an obligator or expecter. Since making the afore mentioned discovery, I’ve come a long way in that regard. And I suspect, that if I had learned that lesson, which by the way, you tried to teach me long ago, we’d have spared her a lot of and lengthy exposure to grief and guilt. I just wouldn’t see spiritual manipulation as manipulation. I just wouldn’t see, what harm it can do. Of course, the troubles are not all my fault, but I wish she had known earlier that she is safe with me.

    I too enjoy travel, I love to be on the road and I never tire of seeing what’s beyond life’s horrizons. This past summer we took a road trip to Newfoundland and back. We drove 11,080 miles in five weeks. We had the time of our lives! We visited ancestors graves in Michigan, Ontario and Quebec and we enjoyed many many Church History sites. I even sneaked a little missionary work into the mix.

    Today we’re in the middle of a road trip to Arizona to see the wildflowers. Joyful times, she is pleased, I am pleased and God is pleased. It doesn’t get any better than this.

    If you click on my name for this comment you can see our travel blog and get more details if you wish.

  • Reply admin February 29, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    What an amazing spirit of adventure–and goodness! Do you have any plans to look into Arkansas’ horizons?

    -Wally

  • Reply Candleman March 1, 2008 at 2:01 am

    I can’t find it in the Conference talks on line, but I’m quite certain that when Sister Bonnie D. Parkin spoke after being released as General Relief Society President, she, speaking from the pulpit, said something to the effect that she, “was excited to discover what Heavenly Father had for her, next.” There in is the adventure.

    I don’t spend much time making plans these days. Mostly, I just wake up in the morning and ask what, He would “have me to do.” And then I just plead for the srength to do it.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if Arkansas was in His plans, but then I take that back, these days most of life is a surprise, a very pleasant one.

  • Reply admin March 3, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    What an interesting question! I’m with you. I would choose today. Have you thought about what you would ask Him?

    -Wally

  • Reply Kristen March 4, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Hmmm, I’ve often thought that I would like to ask why I couldn’t have inherited my grandmother’s auburn, naturally curly hair…but no, this makes me stop and think. I’ve always pictured my interview with Christ as Him as the interviewer and me as the answerer. It will be a good exercise to formulate some thoughtful questions.

  • Reply admin March 5, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    The first questions I think of are about what He wants me to do to be more like Him and to serve Him better. But I suppose that He is already giving me the answers by His Spirit. My job is to listen.

    -Wally

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