Before You Get To Heaven by D. Kelly Ogden
Reviewed by Catherine K. Arveseth
What Does God Want for Us?
Ogden hopes to inspire readers toward mighty spiritual change with this work. Some people may call it a "self-help" book, but Ogden prefers to call it a "divine- help" book. "The secret of change" he says, "can never be completely found in the positive-mental-attitude approach. The fact is, if your relationship with Heavenly Father is good, you feel fine about yourself."
A professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, Ogden has published numerous books and papers about the Holy Land, where he and his family lived for more than ten years. His time in the Middle East, along with a keen knowledge of scriptural texts, gives substance and depth to the "mighty changes" he suggests. Focusing on eight gospel areas of transformation, Ogden urges us to consider scripture study, prayer, faith, repentance, keeping the spirit, being exactly obedient, ridding ourselves of pride, and obtaining the love of Christ.
The book is a bit larger than pocket size, containing only 165 pages. Terse and to the point, it quickly becomes a drawing read. I enjoyed Ogden's wisdom very much. After teaching hundreds of students over the years and working with many young missionaries, Ogden determined the areas listed above to be worth our greatest attention and improvement. These spiritual ways or qualities, if expanded, will deepen our discipleship.
Being Steadfast in the Little Things
Each chapter points to being diligent in the little things. Most of us accomplish the big things in some degree or another. But God knows we can do better than just "get by" in our scripture study and personal prayer. When we simply "get by" in spiritual matters, a sense of dissatisfaction hangs upon our spirits. Like a dryness in our souls, it leaves us wilting somewhere beneath the joy that comes from full connection to the heavens. God wants us to be constant in our communication with him, exact in our obedience to him and unconditional with our love for him. Ogden's book helps readers facilitate these expectations rather than procrastinate the small alterations that could lead to mighty change.
His section entitled, "How to Get and Keep the Spirit," helped me see and love some of God's prophets in new ways. Consider Daniel. Ogden writes, "Some years ago . it finally came to me that the real lesson from the life of Daniel wasn't the miraculous events surrounding him and his friends (the fiery furnace, the lions' den, and so forth), but the commitment to daily diligence, just keeping up the same righteous habits they had pursued for years. When faced with the decree not to kneel and pray to any god besides a huge idol set up by the king, or else get thrown into a den of lions, Daniel went right ahead and continued the same daily habit he had observed for eighty years: he knelt down and prayed to the true God of heaven. It is not the "lightning and thunder" events, the miraculous and memorable moments, that ultimately make a difference in our spiritual life, but it's the struggle for daily diligence, being firm and steadfast on a daily basis, with all the little things" (89-90).
Heaven Starts Here
Ogden indicates that we can experience the blessings of heaven here. Most of us have already seen traces of heaven in our lives. "You don't have to wait for the ultimate eternal package of blessings in distant time and space; you can be partaking of heavenly joys right now." (165) To partake more fully of these blessings we can exercise greater faith, repent more mightily, pray more honestly, keep the Spirit daily, be exactly obedient, discard our prideful ways and cultivate the love of God. Ogden explains that as we do these things we will become well acquainted with the Father and the Son. We will spend countless hours talking with them, pondering their words and doing their works. "The Father and the Savior are not neutral, sitting as arbitrary judges, waiting to see the outcome of our choices.their reaching out is infinite." (164) Although it seems like a daunting list of pursuits to be perfected, Ogden has a way of using just the right amount of doctrine and spirit to leave readers encouraged rather than discouraged.
Before You Get to Heaven is a motivational book for every church member. If you need a little fire under the seat to get you going spiritually, this is the perfect rousing read. It would also make a great gift for seminary students or preparing missionaries. Initially, I thought a more fitting title might be "8 Subtle Changes God Wants for You Before You Get to Heaven," because it really boils down to the little things we do. But Ogden is right - subtle and small fine-tunings will lead to mighty changes in our hearts and minds . and that is what God wants for us.
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