—1 Samuel 16:7
If you want to receive divine teaching, you must have a prepared heart. The state of the “heart” is really the most important factor that governs when and how you receive answers to your inquiries.
By “heart” I mean the inner thoughts, desires, motivations, understanding, willingness, emotions, and devotions that drive and govern you. Though many of these may be very good, a heart is not entirely pure until all these align with God’s own heart. A pure heart is a lofty goal, and according to Christ, one that leads to seeing God:
And blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (3 Nephi 12:8)That level of purity is likely a ways off yet for most of us, so in this post I'll focus on a few facets of the heart that are critical to receiving answers from God.
As I wrote in the last installment of this series, a key to receiving knowledge from God is to have a soft, as opposed to a hard, heart. I’ve previously written about what this means, and I highly recommend reviewing that post before we move on. Here’s the link to it.
I’d like to add a couple of thoughts to that prior post, to more fully flesh it out for the current discussion, before we move on with the topic of asking and receiving. Here are some things to consider.
Those who are culturally LDS tend to make certain assumptions about what it means to be hard and soft hearted. These assumptions include the idea that hard-hearted people are wicked, harsh, vicious, unkind, and basically nasty. Perhaps this comes from hearing about those hard-hearted Lamanites who shaved their heads, wore only a loincloth, delighted in murder and bloodshed, and ate nothing but raw meat. A nasty group to go up against, for sure—though, a close inspection of the record shows that the Nephites were often just as bad, or worse. (Cannibalism, anyone?) But regardless of the group, we’ve come to associate hard heartedness with really-really-badness.
This is, of course, another foolish tradition we sometimes use to justify ourselves and condemn others—thus preventing our repentance.
The true definition of hard heartedness has nothing to do with being good, nice, or “Christian” in our behavior. This was a shocking lesson for me, when I first learned it. Here’s what happened:
Some time ago, I was fasting and praying for a dear friend of mine, with whom I hoped to share the good news of the Lord’s continuing efforts to preserve the restoration of the gospel. This friend is one of the nicest, kindest, people I know. He thinks deeply about the gospel, and has much scriptural knowledge. I owe him a great debt of gratitude for the truths he’s taught me over the years of our friendship. In many ways, he formed the foundation that opened this gospel path to me.
I really thought my friend would be excited, even joyful to hear that the Lord had set His hand again the second time to recover His people.
But he wasn’t.
Rather, he rejected what I shared, refusing to even examine much of the material for himself.
In the midst of my anguish for my friend, I really thought there must be a different approach that would help him recognize truth. So I implored the Lord to tell me what I should do next. The Lord’s surprising response was, “There’s nothing you can do. His heart is hard.”
This response was completely unexpected by me; I was absolutely shocked. How could he have a hard heart? He’s so kind, so committed to the LDS church, so nice to everyone, and a 100% home teacher, to boot. That’s not hard hearted, is it?
But, as is so often the case, I had it all wrong, and had to completely recalibrate what I thought I knew. Nice people, religious people, the best people you know, can be some of the most hard hearted. And there is, indeed, nothing you can do about it. Attempts to challenge their beliefs will most often backfire and cause them to entrench more deeply, regardless of what is presented or how.
Similarly, those who outwardly appear harsh, calloused, unkind, and unsavory may actually be soft hearted and in a state of “preparation to hear the word.” (Alma 32:6) The Lord looks on the heart, while we only see outer appearances. (1 Samuel 16:7)
The only heart you can change is your own. So why not examine it? Here are some items to consider in your quest to gain knowledge from God:
- How do you respond to new information that challenges your views?
- What sources do you trust to reveal truth?
- Are you willing to be wrong and adjust your thinking?
- Do you delight in argument and “proving” you’re right by logic and contention?
- Are you prepared for the social, professional, familial, and organizational fallout that might result if you change your beliefs?
- And, ultimately, what are you NOT willing to put on the altar as sacrifice to receive the things of God? How far is too far? How conditional is your surrender?
The only solution is to consider your ignorance and desperate need, then go to the Lord with a broken heart and contrite spirit. Humble yourself as a little child and seek with real intent to change and obey whatever you learn. This is vital. If you cannot or will not obey the light you already have, the Lord will not condemn you by giving you more. Obedience to His word is the sure sign you are prepared to receive more.
Seeking the things of God, and ultimately the Lord Himself, requires more than lukewarm effort. Though God surely does “give to all men liberally” (James 1:5) those who waver ought not think they “shall receive anything of the Lord” (James 1:7) for “a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8)
Some answers require significant preparation, abandonment of dearly held—but false—ideas, changes in character, even changes in situation. A simple request is not enough to elicit an answer when such changes remain lacking.
Nephi, in speaking of obtaining knowledge from the Lord, emphasized the need for continued effort:
And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be.
And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.
But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul. (2 Nephi 32:7-9 emphasis mine)I know several people who have sought, and failed, to receive a recognizable witness of the truth of the Book of Mormon, according to Moroni’s promise recorded in Moroni 10:4:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.I won’t pretend to diagnose why any person has not received the witness they have sought. I’ll simply offer general advice that such an inquiry requires persistence, willingness to change, and recognition that the witness may NOT come in the way you expect. As my wife put it, “Receiving” these things implies more than simply having the book in your hand. It means openness and commitment to what the answer will require of you. In for a penny, in for a pound.
Remember, the promise is that the truth will be revealed “by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Therefore, an important place to start is understanding what this phrase means, and what it does not—a topic we’ll address before we’re done.
Inquiry into the things of God requires whole-hearted effort.
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines broken hearted as “having the spirits depressed or crushed by grief or despair.”
Those who most actively seek to receive the blessings offered by God are most likely to end up broken hearted at their own ignorance, desperation and inability. Fact is, we are all weak, and intentionally so, according to Moroni:
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:27, emphasis mine)Notice that it doesn’t say “weaknesses” which we commonly define as “failings” or “tendencies to sin.” But rather, the scripture says “weakness” which is the state or condition of being weak. Your own state of weakness was designed to break your heart and convince you to seek Christ in humility. When you do so, the promises are both impressive and sure:
Come unto me, O ye Gentiles, and I will show unto you the greater things, the knowledge which is hid up because of unbelief. Come unto me, O ye house of Israel, and it shall be made manifest unto you how great things the Father hath laid up for you, from the foundation of the world; and it hath not come unto you, because of unbelief.
Behold, when ye shall rend that veil of unbelief which doth cause you to remain in your awful state of wickedness, and hardness of heart, and blindness of mind, then shall the great and marvelous things which have been hid up from the foundation of the world from you—yea, when ye shall call upon the Father in my name, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then shall ye know that the Father hath remembered the covenant which he made unto your fathers, O house of Israel.
And then shall my revelations which I have caused to be written by my servant John be unfolded in the eyes of all the people. Remember, when ye see these things, ye shall know that the time is at hand that they shall be made manifest in very deed.
Therefore, when ye shall receive this record ye may know that the work of the Father has commenced upon all the face of the land. (Ether 4:13-17 emphasis mine)The work of the Father HAS commenced. And the promises ARE SURE to all who will come to Christ with a broken heart.
Ultimately, a broken heart is not only a key to gaining knowledge, but also to gaining a new heart and a new level of connection to our Lord.
Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. (2 Nephi 2:7)
And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. (3 Nephi 9:20)I’ll end this portion by adding my witness that the scriptures above are absolutely true. I know from personal experience that He does answer questions, and does baptize with fire and the Holy Ghost those who come to Him with a broken heart.
Yea, and he looketh down upon all the children of men; and he knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart.