Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pure in Heart

February 18, 2007

The first part of this talk is from Marvin J. Ashton, “The Measure of Our Hearts,” Ensign, Nov 1988, 15 & the latter portion is from Henry B. Eyring, “As a Child,” Ensign, May 2006, 14
I have also used quotes from other Ensign articles, not credited here.

Elder Ashton began by sharing some thoughts about measurements. A measurement is a standard by which we determine the capacity or dimension of a person or object. A measurement gives us a basis for comparison. If I say, “She is a four-point-o student,” you have a pretty good idea of this person’s scholastic ability. A measurement may also be an estimate of what is expected.

Human measurement, of course, is subject to human fallibility. The older generation, for example, was taught that a person’s I.Q. was supposedly a fixed measurement of a person’s capacity to learn. Such a notion is now generally discredited by the teaching profession. Interestingly, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught in the nineteenth century: “We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect.” Unquote (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 51.) He was obviously ahead of his time!

We also tend to evaluate others on the basis of physical, outward appearance: their “good looks,” their social status, their family pedigrees, their degrees, or their economic situations.
The Lord, however, has a different standard by which he measures a person. When it came time to choose a king to replace King Saul, the Lord gave this criteria to his prophet Samuel: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; … for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7.)
When the Lord measures an individual, He does not take a tape measure around the person’s head to determine his mental capacity, nor his chest to determine his manliness, but He measures the heart as an indicator of the person’s capacity and potential to bless others.
Why the heart? Because the heart is a synonym for one’s entire makeup. We often use phrases about the heart to describe the total person. We describe people as being “big-hearted” or “goodhearted” or having a “heart of gold.” Or we speak of people with faint hearts, wise hearts, pure hearts, willing hearts, deceitful hearts, conniving hearts, courageous hearts, cold hearts, hearts of stone, or selfish hearts. The measure of our hearts is the measure of our total performance. As used by the Lord, the “heart” of a person describes his effort to better oneself, or others, or the conditions a person confronts.

A question I suggest is this: How do we measure up? Ultimately you and I will be judged not only for our actions, but also for the desires of our hearts. This truth was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith at a time when he was shown in vision the celestial kingdom. The revelation is recorded in section 137 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph marveled when he saw his deceased brother Alvin in the celestial kingdom, for Alvin had died before the gospel was restored. Joseph then received this great truth: “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; …“For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” (D&C 137:7, 9.)

If our works and the desires of our hearts are the ultimate criteria of our character, how do we measure up? What kind of heart should we seek? For what kind of heart should we pray?
Elder Ashton suggests four questions that deal with the heart that may help us determine how we are measuring up.

First Question: How honest in heart am I?

We pray that our missionaries will find the honest in heart. What does it mean to be honest in heart? It describes an individual who is open to truth, who will evaluate information or people without prejudice. Honest-hearted persons are individuals without pretense, without hypocrisy. They are reliable in word and action. They have no “hidden agendas” to deceive others or to misrepresent facts. In contrast, those with conniving hearts will deceive and misrepresent.
An honest heart will lead to a change of heart. Spiritually speaking, a change of heart is not only desirable, but essential for eternal life. The Book of Mormon describes the conversion experience, which all of us must have, as a “mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2.)

An inspiring lesson is learned from a “Viewpoint” article which appeared recently in the Church News section of the Deseret News. May I quote: “To some it may seem strange to see ships of many nations loading and unloading cargo along the docks at Portland, Oregon. That city is 100 miles from the ocean. Getting there involves a difficult, often turbulent passage over the bar guarding the Columbia River and a long trip up the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.
“But ship captains like to tie up at Portland. They know that as their ships travel the seas, a curious salt water shellfish called a barnacle fastens itself to the hull and stays there for the rest of its life, surrounding itself with a rock-like shell. As more and more barnacles attach themselves, they increase the ship’s drag, slow its progress, decrease its efficiency.
“Periodically, the ship must go into dry dock, where with great effort the barnacles are chiseled or scraped off. It’s a difficult, expensive process that ties up the ship for days. But not if the captain can get his ship to Portland. Barnacles can’t live in fresh water. There, in the sweet, fresh waters of the Willamette or Columbia, the barnacles loosen and fall away, and the ship returns to its task lightened and renewed.

“Sins are like those barnacles. Hardly anyone goes through life without picking up some. They increase the drag, slow our progress, decrease our efficiency. Unrepented, building up one on another, they can eventually sink us.

“In His infinite love and mercy, our Lord has provided a harbor where, through repentance, our barnacles fall away and are forgotten. With our souls lightened and renewed, we can go efficiently about our work and His” (“Harbor of Forgiveness,” 30 Jan. 1988, p. 16).
The Book of Mormon is a study of interesting contrasts between those who hardened their hearts and those whose hearts were softened by the Spirit of the Lord. How does one have his or her heart softened under the influence of the Holy Ghost?

Nephi’s testimony provides an answer: “Having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did … soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father.” (1 Ne. 2:16) After obtaining a testimony of the gospel and the Lord’s church, we should then strive to become pure in heart. This will result in happiness and eventually the promise of a society without contention. It is the Savior’s way to peace.

Second Question: Do I have a willing heart?

Let us look again to the scriptures for guidance. (D&C 64:34.) “Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.” A willing heart describes one who desires to please the Lord and to serve His cause first. He serves the Lord on the Lord’s terms, not his own. There are no restrictions to where or how he will serve.

It is always wonderful to see members willing to give their time, energy, and effort to the upbuilding of the Church. They do so for one primary reason—to serve the Lord with all their heart, might, mind, and strength. Membership in the Church calls forth a determination to serve. A position of responsibility may not be of recognized importance, nor may the reward be broadly known. Service, to be acceptable to the Savior, must come from willing minds, ready hands, and pledged hearts.

Occasionally discouragement may darken our pathway; frustration may be a constant companion. In our ears we may hear the sound of Satan as he whispers, “You cannot save the world; your small efforts are meaningless. You haven’t time to be concerned for others.” Trusting in the Lord, let us turn our heads from such falsehoods and make certain our feet are firmly planted in the path of service and our hearts and souls dedicated to follow the example of the Lord. In moments when the light of resolution dims and when the heart grows faint, we can take comfort from His promise: “Be not weary in well-doing. … Out of small things proceedeth that which is great. “Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind.”

Third Question: Do I have an understanding, loving heart?

The scriptures give us examples of other questioners whose queries taught them new ways to think about love. In the twenty-second chapter of Matthew, Christ was asked by a Pharisee who wanted to trick him, what was the greatest commandment. Christ answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. … “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. 22:37, 39.)
An understanding, loving heart is the pinnacle of all human emotions. As the Apostle Paul said, charity “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (1 Cor. 13:7.) We come closest to becoming Christlike when we are charitable and understanding of others.

One may have many talents and knowledge but never acquire wisdom because he does not learn to be compassionate with his fellow man. We will never approach godliness until we learn to love and lift. Indifference to others and their plight denies us life’s sweetest moments of joy and service.

Love is the catalyst that causes change. Love is the balm that brings healing to the soul. But love doesn’t grow like weeds or fall like rain. Love has its price. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). That Son, even the Lord Jesus Christ, gave His life that we might have eternal life, so great was His love for His Father and for us. In that tender and touching farewell, as He counseled His beloved disciples, Jesus taught, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me” (John 14:21). Particularly far-reaching was the instruction, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).

Last Question (this taken directly from the Book of Mormon): “If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, … can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26).

Having a “change of heart” at one time in our lives is insufficient to give us an understanding heart today. Helping and understanding a person years ago do not fill us with the love of God today. Christlike love must be continuous and contemporary. In reality, it was the Redeemer who best taught this principle. Jesus changed men. He changed their habits and opinions and ambitions. He changed their tempers, dispositions, and natures. He changed their hearts. He lifted! He loved! He forgave! He redeemed! Do we have the will to follow? Henry B. Eyring, “As a Child,” Ensign, May 2006, 14

King Benjamin describes that change with a beautiful comparison, used by prophets for millennia and by the Lord Himself. It is this: that we can, and we must, become as a child—a little child. For some that will not be easy to understand or to accept. Most of us want to be strong. We may well see being like a child as being weak. Most parents have wanted their children at times to be less childish. Even the Apostle Paul used these words as he was about to urge us to incorporate charity, the pure love of Christ, into our lives: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

But King Benjamin, who understood as well as any mortal what it meant to be a man of strength and courage, makes it clear that to be like a child is not to be childish. It is to be like the Savior, who prayed to His Father for strength to be able to do His will and then did it. Our natures must be changed to become as a child to gain the strength we must have to be safe in the times of moral peril.

Here is King Benjamin’s stirring description of what that change to become like a child is and how it comes to us: “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

We are safe on the rock which is the Savior when we have yielded in faith in Him, have responded to the Holy Spirit’s direction to keep the commandments long enough and faithfully enough that the power of the Atonement has changed our hearts. When we have, by that experience, become as a child in our capacity to love and obey, we are on the sure foundation.
From King Benjamin we learn what we can do to take us to that safe place. But remember: the things we do are the means, not the end we seek. What we do allows the Atonement of Jesus Christ to change us into what we must be. Our faith in Jesus Christ brings us to repentance and to keeping His commandments. We obey and we resist temptation by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost. In time our natures will change. We, then, learn to be honest in heart, have a willing heart, an understanding & loving heart, and last a changed heart. Only then will we become as a little child, obedient to God and more loving. That change, if we do all we must to keep it, will qualify us to enjoy the gifts which come through the Holy Ghost. Then we will be safe on the only sure rock.

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