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I love singing in church. I never learned an instrument except percussion but I have always loved to sing. Right now I am preparing to sing the classic Janice Kapp Perry song, “His Image In Your Countenance” based on the verses in Alma 5:14, 19: “And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?…I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?” 

The chorus of the song reflects Alma’s query, “Have you received His image in your countenance? Does the light of Christ shine through your eyes?” And, the third verse is especially poignant with the words, “The ways of men may tempt us and some will be deceived, preferring worldly beauty, forgetting truth received. But whisperings of the Spirit remind us once again, that lasting beauty pure and clear must come from deep within.” 

This reminder of having God’s image in our countenance is an invitation to pause and look within ourselves and ask if we put God first in our lives, and if we “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). One of the first things we are invited to do in the lesson this month is to consider how this portion of the Sermon on the Mount will help us to focus on heavenly things. I think this invitation to self-awareness about our spiritual commitment is the first step in evaluating our devotion to spiritual things. Many of the verses in these two chapters are an invitation to look into our own hearts to discern our loyalties, root out hypocrisy, and learn to trust the Lord. 

Images in these verses about the eye, treasures, rewards, Masters, fowls and lilies, motes and beams, dogs and swine, gifts, fruits, and houses really got me thinking how these were all related. The more I thought on these things, the more I learned how there is one overarching message that stood out to me. In these chapters, Jesus is telling us about what it means to be His true disciple, to put our trust in Him, and keep an eternal perspective.


I have recently been challenged in my personal life to become more self-aware. By taking time for introspection, we are able to discern our beliefs, listen to what truly motivates us, and give place for the Spirit to impact our minds and hearts. President Cecil O. Samuelson said in a devotional at Brigham Young University (BYU), “All of us need to have a clear awareness of who we are, what we represent, and how we affect and influence others. At BYU virtually all of us understand that we are literally spirit children of our Heavenly Father. This insight should and must color all decisions and choices we make in our lives, including and especially how we treat strangers and others in our families, classes, church groups, and neighborhoods” (“Seven Suggestions” Jan. 4, 2011). 

Ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu said, “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” I believe Jesus is inviting us to self-awareness in these chapters. To what end? To realize whether we truly know and trust our Father in Heaven, to prioritize Him and His kingdom, and to gain an eternal perspective of our place in that kingdom. 

Reward in Heaven

This invitation to self-awareness begins with the instruction from the Savior to pay attention to how we worship to reveal the reasons why we do what we do. Jesus warns of doing alms, fasting, and saying prayers “as the hypocrites” or “as the heathens” to “have the glory of men,” or “be seen of men,” or using “vain repetitions” to be “heard for their much speaking.” Instead He encourages us to do these things “in secret” to gain a reward from Father in Heaven who “seeth in secret” and will “reward thee openly” and taught them an example of prayer (see Matthew 6:1-18).  

There’s a principle of faith vs. fear that comes into play with this concept of “glory of men” vs. “reward in heaven.” As I wrote in my first article for the Come, Follow Me series: “Deliberately working toward a goal will yield completely different results as simply avoiding a consequence.” Avoiding doing things for the glory of men is not the same as striving for a reward in heaven. You could sit back and do nothing and you would be avoiding the glory of men, but you would obviously not be working toward any kind of reward in heaven! Author, Simon Sinek said, “Never move to get away from something bad. Only move to get something better. The difference will be knowing what to do when we arrive” (Start with Why).

Think of the parable of the talents (see Matthew 25:14–30). The three servants had all received talents from their Master. The first two actively chose to invest their talents to work toward pleasing the Master when he returned. The third merely worked to avoid the Master’s anger. The results were vastly different. Why would we simply work to avoid punishment? I wonder if we doubt the abundance of God’s reward, or lack faith in the extent of His infinite mercy. We must actively seek for our heavenly reward rather than passively acting out of fear.

Jesus says we will know we are seeking for the glory of men if we do them for appearances and for a show. The Savior goes on to say that we will know if we seek earthly glory if our hearts are set upon earthly treasures (v. 19-21), if our eye is not single to His glory (v. 22-23), or if we judge others unrighteously (7:1-5), or bring forth evil fruit (7:15-20).  Even unrighteous judgements are a result of worldliness and seeking for the glory of men. 


I have thought a lot lately about judgement. In the Joseph Smith Translation of the first two verses of Matthew chapter 7 we read a slight alteration: “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.” This phrase is repeated again in Alma 41:14-15; 3 Ne. 14:1 (1–27); and in D&C 11:12

A righteous judgment is another benefit of self-awareness. When Jesus taught us about righteous judgement in these verses, he warns us that we will be judged by the judgement we judge. He then goes on to say that we cannot judge others at all if we haven’t first examined our own faults: “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (v. 3-5). 

Don’t we judge others by looking through the lens of our own insecurities and fears? I am convinced that the judgement we judge is the judgement we have for ourselves. When we hold a grudge against someone else, it is because of our own insecurities. If we are at peace with ourselves, and have self-confidence, we are less likely to be swayed by the fear of being judged. 

In his address this last General Conference, President Henry B. Eyring said, “Many years ago, I was first counselor to a district president in the eastern United States. More than once, as we were driving to our little branches, he said to me, ‘Hal, when you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right more than half the time.’ Not only was he right, but I have learned over the years that he was too low in his estimate” (“Try, Try, Try” October 2018). Every one of us is going through our own mortal battle for our salvation, if not survival. Even before assigning a “righteous” judgement we should first suspend all judgement.

Suspending judgement is another principle of self-awareness and mindfulness. It’s that space where you can pause between perception and reaction where you have the power to choose. This is an important principle I have to use in my personal life as I work on having better reactions to my kids’ behaviors. Sometimes they do things that trigger my less-than-desirable reflexes, and I have to pause and choose my reaction carefully. This mindfulness helps me to wait on the Lord’s timing and have patience and faith. Being mindful and self-aware will lead to more meaningful worship and prayers, just as the Savior invites in the first several verses of Matthew 6, and help us to pray, fast, and “do alms” in secret.

This is also a principle of faith and agency. “In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:13–14). As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of agency—the capacity and power of independent action. Endowed with agency, we are agents, and we primarily are to act and not only to be acted upon— especially as we seek to obtain and apply spiritual knowledge” (“Seek Learning by Faith” David A. Bednar). It requires self-awareness to recognize whether you are being proactive, or reactive much like the difference between acting out of faith, or fear. 

How The Savior Would Judge

Righteous judgement is an important part of our eternal progression. Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). And “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). How can we know who false prophets are or whether we are doing the Father’s will unless we judge a righteous judgement? What is a righteous judgement?

Elder Lynn G. Robbins helps us understand in his talk, “The Righteous Judge” when he said, “This counsel to the Nephite Twelve will help us judge as the Lord does: ‘Ye shall be judges of this people, according to the judgment which I shall give unto you, which shall be just. Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am’ (3 Nephi 27:27; emphasis added). We sometimes forget that when He gave the counsel to be as He is, it was in the context of how to judge righteously.”

Elder Robbins adds, “The natural man and woman in each of us has a tendency to condemn others and to judge unrighteously, or self-righteously. This even happened to James and John, two of the Savior’s Apostles. They were infuriated when the people of a Samaritan village treated the Savior disrespectfully (see Luke 9:51–54):’And when [they] saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them’ (verses 54–56).”

In our unrighteous judgements, we are quick to want to see the justice of God dealt out to those around us, while we deeply wish for mercy on ourselves. We want to take the mote from our neighbors eye and work on fixing them without realizing that we are likely the ones at fault. But we are in scarcity about the balance of justice and mercy. We believe that we must deal out justice because we want to be justified for our own judgements! 

I learned in the book The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute this justification is called being in “the box.” Being in the box means that we justify our behavior because we need to be right. We even assign others as less than human and deserving of our unrighteous judgements. Consider this diagram from the book (below) where the author is analyzing his feelings and actions toward someone named Mordechai who is from a different race of people than he is. Mordechai is blind and has just accidentally scattered his coins on the ground and the author sees it. He senses that Mordechai needs some help, but he justifies his actions to walk away instead by reinforcing his label that Mordechai is from a different race. When his actions are consistent with his senses about Mordechai’s humanity and needs, he is at peace. When he goes against his senses, his heart is at war:

Intermediate Judgements

We are to judge as Jesus would judge, with mercy and compassion. It is not our place to condemn or to assign eternal judgement. Elder Dallin H. Oaks told us that there are two kinds of judgements: final judgement and intermediate judgements. Final judgements are “forbidden” but intermediate judgements are “essential to the exercise of personal moral agency” (“‘Judge Not’ and Judging”, BYU Devotional, Mar. 1, 1998). 

Still, I think we sometimes confuse our unrighteous judgements as intermediate judgements when we justify that someone IS something. When we assign labels, or classifications for people, we see them as objects to be judged according to our (often self-righteous) opinions of them. We are quick to assign labels that so-and-so is this or that. In Brené Brown’s books (listed below), I learned that this is a form of shame. When we have shame, or assign shame, then we believe we are bad, or someone else is bad, and we are unable to change. This is opposed to having done something bad that can be corrected or is a temporary part of our progression through mortality. Shame assigns an unchanging condition without considering the circumstances, perspective, or beliefs of the other person.

I think about this when it comes to disciplining my children. I want my children to be faithful disciples of Christ, but I also know they have their agency and need to experience life on their own terms. But, when we judge our children and try to force them to live the gospel, so often they rebel against us. We might be too quick to shame them, or feel ashamed of them rather than see their choices as a temporary part of their progression. While I’m sure it doesn’t always follow that righteous parenting always leads to righteous children, nor that rebellious kids will always result from our imperfect parenting, but if you’re like me, you’ll take all the help and grace you can get.

Sometimes, I feel like Alma when he laments: “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 I also know that “the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true” (Alma 29:8). 

We are all on our own path, and we cannot perceive where others are on their path toward their reward. There is no “sinners vs. saints” or “us vs. them” because we are all sinners. We are all on our own path using our own agency and discernment.. We cannot judge others on their path because their trials, their sacrifices, their strengths and weaknesses are different from ours.

Righteous Judgements

So, how can we truly judge righteously? We need to be able to judge because we need to discern good friends and leaders, we need to protect ourselves and our families, we need to discipline our children and guide them toward their covenant path! Even the Savior said in these chapters to seek for the rewards of heaven, to lay up treasures in heaven, to serve Him, to not cast our pearls before swine, to enter the strait gate, to watch out for false prophets, and to be wise. It requires our discernment and our judgement to do these things. 

The problem is, we so often view our judgements through the lens of an eye with a beam in it and scrupulously pick things apart, being quick to assign condemnation and labels. Remember, how the Nephites quickly descended into corruption when they assigned labels and separated into classes and -ites? (4 Nephi 1). 

Righteous judgement boils down to this: viewing others through the lens of love. Reacting to others with fear, shame, envy, insecurity, assumptions, labeling, and of course hatred is not a righteous judgement, and will never be out of a spirit of love. Think about this from Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.“ And, that when we are moved upon by the Spirit to judge, we reprove with sharpness (or clarity), and to show an “increase of love” afterwards.

Elder Robbins clarifies: “This scripture teaches us to reprove ‘when moved upon by the Holy Ghost,’ not when moved upon by anger. The Holy Ghost and anger are incompatible because ‘he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger’ (3 Nephi 11:29). President George Albert Smith taught that ‘unkind things are not usually said [or thought] under the inspiration of the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord is a spirit of kindness; it is a spirit of patience; it is a spirit of charity and love and forbearance and long suffering. …

“‘… But if we have the spirit of fault finding … in a destructive manner, that never comes as a result of the companionship of the Spirit of our Heavenly Father and is always harmful.

“‘… Kindness is the power that God has given us to unlock hard hearts and subdue stubborn souls.’”

We are to judge as the Savior would: “For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:56).

We have such a limited perspective! How can we judge righteously unless we are motivated by love? Rather than looking at appearances, or judging where others are on their path, we should “look not on [their] countenance, or on the height of [their] stature…for the Lord seeth not as a man seeth; for a man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samual 16:7). 

How quick am I to assign judgments based on appearances or from my own perspective? Other people do not have the same values and experiences as I do, but how often do I judge while looking through the lens of the limited view of my own faults? 

This is something that has become glaringly obvious as I witness “mommy shaming” due to self-righteousness, which is actually insecurity. I also see this when judging others “because I sin differently than you.” Diether F. Uchtdorf said, “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!” (“The Merciful Obtain Mercy”). 

“We must recognize that we are all imperfect—that we are beggars before God. Haven’t we all, at one time or another, meekly approached the mercy seat and pleaded for grace? Haven’t we wished with all the energy of our souls for mercy—to be forgiven for the mistakes we have made and the sins we have committed?

Because we all depend on the mercy of God, how can we deny to others any measure of the grace we so desperately desire for ourselves? My beloved brothers and sisters, should we not forgive as we wish to be forgiven?”

…”How is it done? Through the love of God.”

Knowing God

I wondered during these chapters why the Savior would group together discussion about hypocrisy, good gifts, false prophets, two Masters, and judging with knowing Him. In chapter 7, Jesus starts out instructing us not to judge, and goes on to talk about how He knows how to give good gifts. From there He describes how to detect false prophets, and then goes on to say that “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (v. 22-2). 

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of righteous judgement and the fear of not obtaining a good gift. I think that sometimes we judge, we label, we belittle, and we bully others because we are in a scarcity mindset about our own standing with God or the outcome of our eternal reward. We perceive that maybe He is too selective, too just and too stingy with His gifts. Or, we perceive that others are better, and so we must be missing out. We judge others’ strengths through the lens of our weakness, and our scarcity mindset tells us that if others are winning, we must be losing. Perhaps God is blessing them more than me, or perhaps we have done something wrong and are undeserving! This is a problem with our perception, our knowledge, and our judgement about who He is. Our judgement of Him is incomplete if we believe that there is need for scarcity, or fear there isn’t enough room for all of us! In fact, this judgement of God is another way we can learn to know Him. 

Coming back the parable of the talents, these three servants had a different judgment of the Master. An article in the February 2019 Ensign explains why this is so crucial to learning about righteous judgments, including our judgements — and our knowledge of — God:

“If we were to ask either of these first two servants to describe their judgment of the Master, we would likely hear words such as kind, loving, merciful, and gracious in their responses. It is also safe to assume that these two would be willing to do anything that the Master asked of them because of their righteous judgment of his character and motives.

“Contrast that with how the third servant judged the Master. One can visualize him approaching the Master in fear and trembling as he dropped the recently unburied talent at the Master’s feet and said, “Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed” (Matthew 25:24).”

Because the third servant judged the Master to be harsh and vindictive, he was harshly rewarded with his own judgment, just as Jesus had said, ““For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2). 

When we know God better, we know He is loving and generous! “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11). When we judge God to be generous, we have greater faith in Him, and we understand these verses:

“Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things (Matthew 6:26-32)

And, it becomes easier to “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” And to “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself” ( Matthew 6:33-34). This trust even goes back to the beginning of Matthew 6 when Jesus teaches us to worship in secret. When we trust God, He will reward us and we won’t need to “be seen of men.”

This principle of abundance and trust is also referenced in Alma 41:14-15: Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again. For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.” When we have faith and trust God, we trust this divine law of compensation, leave justice in His hands, and treat others as we would want to be treated. Thus, “with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged” (Matthew 7:2).

Elder David A. Bednar describes how we can know God better with these four steps: 1) exercise faith in Him; 2) follow Him; 3) serve Him; and 4) believe Him (“If Ye Had Known Me” October 2016 General Conference). You will not serve two Masters, or be insecure about your life, your food and drink, your clothes, or seek for worldly treasures if you trust that Heavenly Father has your best interests in mind. You’ll have increased faith in His plan and His timing, and have a greater measure of grace for yourself and others, which will lead to more love, and more righteous judgements!

Seek First the Kingdom of Heaven

I talked with a wise entrepreneur about how to help our children be more conscientious about their futures, and creating something that has an impact. He told me that we have to start by looking for opportunities to solve problems and to serve. I thought this was fascinating considering that most of the time, we really just want to start providing for our families and cover our needs as quickly as we can. But, the reality is, the best way to obtaining what we really need is by solving others’ problems and serving. 

Think about getting a job or starting a business. You have to consider how an employer would need you in their company before they are willing to hire you. When you start a business, wise entrepreneurs know that they need to create a product that the market wants so you have to look to the market to fill a need and serve your niche. It always starts with service.

Richie Norton is an author and entrepreneur and he wrote this book about getting started with creating your “stupid” idea. I learned from this book that the quickest way to figure out our talents, amplify our gifts, and develop our ideas is to S.T.A.R.T. meaning, to “serve, thank, ask, receive, and trust.” Check out this video where he explains what that means. The first step to getting experience, creating your big ideas, starting a business, or getting a job is to serve! (“The Power of Starting Something Stupid).

I like to think of the work I do as my ministry. There is an element of consecration when we use our gifts to minister to others. We serve Him when we serve His children (see Mosiah 2:17). The Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 6:38 says, “Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Again, this goes back to deliberately working toward our reward in heaven.

When we seek first the kingdom of heaven, what follows is that He will provide for ourselves and our families more than we might even imagine. I have learned that by putting others first in my pursuits, the results are even better than I could have created on my own. When we trust God and His willingness to bless us, we are more willing to do things for others knowing that we are doing His will. Much like the first two servants in the parable of the talents. They trusted that the Master would reward them, so they were willing to put in the work to get a return on their investment. When our eye is single, and we serve God, we will be like the wise man who built his house on the rock. “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock” (Matthew 7:25), and “all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

Suggestions for personal and supplemental study

Take some time this week to learn about self-awareness. I’m a little bit obsessed with non-fiction and self-improvement books. Consider reading a book or two that will help make self-awareness more clear (in no particular order):

  1. Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
  2. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
  3. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
  4. Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill
  5. First Things First by Stephen Covey
  6. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra
  7. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin
  8. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
  9. The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute
  10. Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute
  11. Bonds That Make Us Free by C. Terry Warner
  12. The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
  13. The Artist’s Journey by Steven Pressfield
  14. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  15. As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

Some activities you can do with children to encourage self-awareness:

There are many suggestions by General Authorities encouraging enlightenment and meditation that could also help. Check out these resources from the Church about meditation, and give meditation a try:

There are a lot of great resources for learning about righteous judgements. Here are a few I have found, including some of the books I have enjoyed on the subject:

Seeking the kingdom of God: