If you asked me a few years ago about this subject I wouldn't have had too much to say about it. I mean, it seemed pretty straight forward. It might have even been a pretty boring topic (okay, it was). However, I have gained different insights where this topic has become quite fascinating to me.
First, I want to share an experience on this subject. I'm not too big on sharing experiences, but this one makes a good point. I hope.
I had been pondering over making a decision in my life and took it to the Lord so I could move forward in faith. I was just about to start studying the scriptures and decided to ask Him at this time about it. I had this certain decision specifically stated in my mind, and before I could utter a word about it, I heard the words, “it is required of you”. At first, I thought it was pretty peculiar that God would answer me in such language. Nevertheless, I immediately wrote the answer in my journal, determined to follow, and began reading the scriptures. To start off, it just so happened that I read Mosiah Chapter 2:
22 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you. (Mosiah 2)
24 And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast? (Mosiah 2)
To me, there are two types of commandments. The first type: these are the written commandments in scripture, commandments in the Church (statutes), commandments from our modern day prophet (via the Holy Ghost). The origin of these commandments are from God. The scriptures explicitly state what God requires of us. These are commandments for everyone. Then, there is the second type: these are things God requires of us personally and uniquely; or as the scripture says, “he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you”. I'm sure you could think of a bajillion examples of these in the scriptures, e.g., Nephi was commanded to build a ship.
How do we think of commandments? Are we doing well? The following is a contrast between how Laman and Lemuel think of the people then, and Nephi's view:
Laman and Lemuel's view:
22 And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words; yea, and our brother is like unto him. And after this manner of language did my brethren murmur and complain against us. (1 Nephi 17)
By the way, Nephi directly answers them as to whether they “had hearkened unto the words of the Lord”.
35 Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God. But behold, this people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it. (1 Nephi 17)
Why was there such a great difference in perception between what Laman and Lemuel perceived of the people keeping the commandments and what Nephi perceived of the people keeping the commandments? Keeping the commandments is serving God and obeying the Spirit. This includes the written commandments and obeying them in truth. Keeping the commandments in this way will help us “receive grace for grace” and God will help us in our growth.
Whichever type of commandment we're talking about, it must always be that we obey because we obey the Lord. If I could stress anything in ALL my writings ALL the time, it would be this:
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matthew 22)
It's God's will we must seek. Why?:
4 For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him. (D&C 3)
I believe God is intimately involved in every aspect of our lives. He cares very much about us. This is why He gives us commandments:
4 And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me. (D&C 59)
Commandments are to draw us closer to God. In fact, they are to propel our faith in God. I hope we don't think commandments are burdensome, because they are actually great blessings to us. I will also add that we are never too unworthy to seek His help or to hear His voice. I've heard His voice in the most unworthy periods of my life. I heard His voice and acted in faith, and in doing so increased my ability to repent and draw near to Him again. He will teach us how to overcome.
As we do so, God strengthens us. He cleanses us through seeking His voice and His spirit. One grave mistake I made when being released from my mission was thinking that my great spiritual experiences were over; that because I wasn't a missionary anymore I wouldn't feel the spirit as frequently or have as many spiritual experiences. THIS IS FALSE:
63 Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. (D&C 88)
C'mon, now. Even Cain heard God's voice, and he wasn't all that great. To part the heavens, we must have a desire to continually seek God–not just when we're going through a tough trial, but always. Make sure that when heaven opens, you listen and obey. Otherwise it'll close right back up again and we'll wonder why God abandoned us when He really hasn't (that's not the only reason it closes, though).
Here's a summation:
25 Wherefore, I, Nephi, did exhort them to give heed unto the word of the Lord; yea, I did exhort them with all the energies of my soul, and with all the faculty which I possessed, that they would give heed to the word of God and remember to keep his commandments always in all things. (1 Nephi 15)
Notice how he separates “give heed to the word of God” and “keep his commandments”? Why wouldn't they be one and the same?
God has also warned us the importance of knowing and obeying the Lord's voice in modern times:
49 And the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin.
50 And by this you may know they are under the bondage of sin, because they come not unto me.
51 For whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin.
52 And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.
53 And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.
54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
56 And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
57 And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—
58 That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion. (D&C 84)
The spiritual blessings are far greater than what we can now see; and to me, they exceed the value in temporal blessings.