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Friday, December 28, 2012

Meditation, Part 2 - Be Still and Know God

As we learned in previous posts, if you truly want to commune with God, you must first “tune in” to Him… on a special “frequency” that resonates only His “signal.”   

Empty Your Cup

First, a story:

There once was a Japanese Zen master who received a university professor who came to inquire and learn about Zen.

It was obvious to the master from the start of the conversation that the professor was not so much interested in learning about Zen as he was in impressing the master with his own opinions and knowledge. The master listened patiently and finally suggested they have tea. The master poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the cup overflowing until he could no longer restrain himself. “The cup is overfull, no more will go in,” he said.

“Like this cup,” the master said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” 

Like the university professor, our cups are overflowing with cares, concerns and worries about ourselves, our families, our jobs, our health, the world, as well as the past, present and future.

Life is noisy – metaphorically, if not literally. It can be hard to stop, because we’ve got a lot of things going on.  Our “Restless Spirit Syndrome” causes us to think about, worry about and dream about a lot.  Like Elijah, we keep running, often motivated by fear and anxiety. 

Start by Shedding the Telestial

A friend once taught me an interesting strategy on how we can "empty our cup" and prepare to receive God.  It's based on Matthew 19:21-24:
21 Jesus said unto him [the young man], If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
23 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
In this case, "the eye of a needle" the Savior was mentioning wasn't a sewing needle.  You see, in the days of Christ, walls surrounded cities for protection against invading enemies.  Gates were set in the walls to allow people and materials to come and go.  These gates were closed at night and in times of danger, but it was still necessary to allow a limited flow of people in and out.  Therefore, built into the large gates was a small door which could be opened to let someone in or out.  This small door was called "the eye of the needle."

Back then, they didn't have Fords or Chevys to transport personal goods, so they used camels.  They would be piled high with merchandise and goods to be traded.  So, if you came to the gates after they had been closed and needed to enter, you needed to take all your merchandise off your camel, who could then pass through the "eye of the needle" by kneeling down and crawling.

We are no different.  For us to pass into heaven -- or even into the heavenly presence -- we must strip all our telestial cares, concerns and worries from us.  Just...set them aside.  Focus on those things which are spiritual and eternal, then kneel in humility.

Many geologic eons ago, when I was in college, I was asked to give a sister in my ward a blessing.  I was pretty nervous because I was a newly-ordained elder, and although I’d seen blessings given in the past, I’d never given one.  A few minutes before I laid my hands on this sister’s head, a thought struck me:

“Pretend your mind is a chalkboard.  Be calm, be still and focus on erasing all everything off of it.  When there’s nothing left on the chalkboard – when it’s all blank – place your hands on her head, and I’ll write the words I want you to say on the chalkboard of your mind.”

Ever since then, I’ve followed that inspired counsel I received not by any mortal, but by God.

When you try to “tune in” to God, what else is going on in your environment and within you?  Are there people, thoughts or environmental sounds, sights or smells that could distract you? Are you so immersed in the cares and the concerns of the world that they seem to be obstructing your view of God?

Just “what” are you tuned in to?

I challenge you to recognize the things you need to “tune out.” As you do, you’ll make a giant step in being able to “tune in” to the divine frequency.

Be Still to Tune In

It should be clear by now that God will show up not in the noise...but in the quiet.

God’s “frequency” (if it could be called that) has been described as “still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-13; D&C 85:6).  President Boyd K. Packer reminds us:

“The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all” (“The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, January 1983, 53).

Luckily, God told us how we can perceive the still small voice that whispers and gently caresses our souls:

“Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 46:10)

The phrase “be still” is pronounced “raphah” in Hebrew.  It means to cast down; to let fall; to let hang down; then, to be relaxed. Yet in a religious context, raphah means “stop, cease your own striving and watch the Lord do His work.”

The Savior used “raphah”, too:

“And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:39)

The Lord also used the phrase “be still” to comfort the Saints as they were enduring great persecution:

“Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.” (D&C 101:16)

Three notes about being still:

First, Moses used “raphah” in Exodus 14:13, saying "Stand still, and see the salvation of God."  Soon thereafter, through the power of God, he divided the Red Sea.

Interestingly, as the Israelites passed on dry ground inside the parted Red Sea, they didn’t divert to the left or the right; they just kept moving straight ahead.  Likewise, when you avoid contemplating the past or the future, but instead stay focused on the present, you are on spiritual “dry ground” – you can effectively “be still” and “see the salvation of God.” It is no wonder that the Savior said,

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matt. 6:34)

Second, when you "empty your cup" by shedding your telestial baggage, you become far more open to new learning.  You're teachable by the Spirit.  Why?  Because you're replacing insecurity and defensiveness -- fear -- with faith...the same kind of faith that can move mountains with just the spoken word.  A bit of advice, if I may: Be one who is constantly emptying his or her cup and taking in new ideas.  As you do so, you'll not only be mentally and emotionally preparing yourself for meditation, but you'll also be developing humility.

Third, “Being still and doing nothing are two very different things.” (Jackie Chan, "The Karate Kid")  Being still, motionless, silent, quiet, tranquil and calm is not the same as doing nothing.   

In fact, in being still, you are moving onward and upward…to the presence of the Lord.

In our next post, we’ll discuss some strategies for being still. 

(If you have any suggestions, feel free to submit them as a “comment” below).

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Meditation, Part 1 - Evolving Beyond Pondering

As we learned in Enter the Presence of the Lord, modern-day prophets have encouraged us to meditate.  Our prioritization (or lack thereof) of meditation in our lives led Pres. Thomas S. Monson to recently ask,

"In this fast-paced life, do we ever pause for moments of meditation – even thoughts of timeless truths?" ("The Race of Life," April 2012 General Conference)

It’s a terrific question.  However, just how does one meditate?  If you visit or even the beta version of its new search engine, you’re not going to find a lot on how to meditate; in fact, you’ll find little regarding meditation.  This is surprising to me, considering how potentially potent meditation can be:

“I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion.

In our worship there are two elements: one is spiritual communion rising from our own meditation; the other instruction from others, particularly from those who have authority to guide and instruct us. Of the two, the more profitable introspectively is meditation.

Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord" (Pres. David O. McKay, “Consciousness of God: Supreme Goal of Life,” Improvement Era, June 1967, pp. 80–82).

Luckily, we have several examples from the scriptures and church history, as well as some insightful quotes, that potentially pave the way to a greater understanding of meditation and how you can use it to pass into the presence of the Lord.

Evolving Beyond Pondering

As we discussed in a previous post, there is a difference between pondering and meditation.  Pondering often involves deeply contemplating the words of God.  Meditation, on the other hand, involves repositioning oneself away from the storms, turmoil, chaos, loudness and confusion of life to a solitary, peaceful environment to become better attuned to, and eventually enjoy the presence of, divinity.

There are two instances in the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith that illustrate how his spirituality developed from pondering to meditation, from using tools to know the Word of God to knowing them without any tools:

The Sacred Grove: Prior to his Sacred Grove experience, Brother Joseph first pondered the word of God – the scriptures. He then went to a place of solitude, and finding himself alone, knelt down and offered up the desires of his heart (JSH 14-15) – all classic examples of a meditative state.

The Urim and Thummim: As we know, the Urim and Thummim was a material instrument through which spiritual communication was conducted from God to man. Its powers of vision illuminated the eyes, the mind and the spirit of the beholder -- reflecting the events of the past or highlighting those of the future. Through this instrument, the mysteries of ancient, dead languages could be interpreted, or the seer could envision the untold sublime wonders of the celestial glories. In Joseph’s case, he was given the Urim and Thummim mainly for the purpose of translating the Book of Mormon as well as the Pearl of Great Price (P.P. Pratt, Millennial Star, 3:47).  Soon, however, the Prophet no longer needed use of the Urim and Thummim. Elder Orson Pratt reported that Joseph Smith told him that the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced as a translator but that he later progressed to the point that he no longer needed the instrument ("Two Days' Meeting at Brigham City," Millennial Star 36 [1874]:498-99).  Elder John A. Widtsoe explained why:

“The Prophet did not always receive revelations by the aid of the Urim and Thummim. As he grew in spiritual power, he learned to bring his mind into such harmony with divine forces that it became, as it were, itself a Urim and Thummim to him; and God’s will was revealed without the intervention of external aids; that is, truth may become known without outside help when one is in harmony or in full tune with the requirements of the subject in hand.” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p.90; emphasis mine)

(Wow, there’s that ‘tune’ word that kept popping up in a previous post)

The Lord continued increasing the spiritual maturity of the Prophet. As Joseph translated the New Testament, no longer did he need the Urim and Thummim, for his mind was in harmony with the Divine and had become, as it were, a Urim and Thummim unto itself.

In my opinion, these two excerpts from Joseph’s life can be replicated, to a certain extent, in our lives as well.  Joseph’s search for divine answers evolved from pondering to meditating (note that after the Sacred Grove experience, he never abandoned turning to the scriptures for more answers – far from it!).  Later, his reliance on tools to interpret the Word of God evolved to where he, himself, became the interpreter.

In my next post, we’ll combine principles we learned from these above events – and more – into an LDS approach to meditation. 

President Monson encouraged us to meditate.

His predecessor, President McKay, said meditation “is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord.”

We discussed what meditation is in a previous post.  Beginning with the next post, we'll learn more about meditating: how to prepare for it, how to do it, and what we can realistically expect from it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Pondering the Word of God, Part 2 - Principles

The Principles of Pondering

As we learned in my last blog post, Joseph Smith showed us a very simple example of how he pondered the scriptures.  In Joseph Smith-History, we read how he agonized about a particular challenge he was having in his life: a “war of words and tumult of opinions” regarding which church to join.  For answers, he turned to the word of God.  And there, in James 1:5, was the key to resolving his internal conflict:

"While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible." (JSH: 11-12)

He just didn’t passively read James 1:5 then move on.  No.  He “reflected on it again and again.” And in classic Alma 32:28 fashion, he planted the seed of James 1:5 in his heart and nurtured it with belief as it swelled within him.  This enlarged his soul, enlarged his understanding and was delicious to him.  As a result, he “came to the determination to ‘ask of God’”…and the opening stanzas of the Restoration began.

1.  Turn to the Word of God

To ponder the word of God, you must first acquire it.  As with all things heavenly, there is order even in this endeavor: start general, then work specific.  Author Stephen R. Covey once stated:

“General Commandments are given by God through prophets for the benefit of all His children.  They are the natural laws of growth and happiness for individuals, of stability and freedom for nations.”

Obedience to General Commandments schools and prepares us to discern and obey the "Personal Commandments" given us by the spirit.” (Stephen R. Covey, “The Divine Center”, p. 247; emphasis mine)

The Prophet Joseph Smith said:

"...we never inquire at the hand of God for special revelation only in case of there being no previous revelation to suit the case . . ." (HC, Vol. 1, p. 339)

“We cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 256; emphasis mine).

2.  Search – Not Read – the Scriptures

The Prophet Joseph Smith once gave us a key in how to effectively start the pondering process:

“Search the scriptures—search the revelations … and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 11–12.)

Note that Brother Joseph said searching, not reading.  There’s a difference between the two. 

"The word 'search' means to inquire into, study, and examine for the purpose of discovering the meaning. Searching implies more than just reading or even memorizing." (Marion G. Romney, "Records of Great Worth," Ensign, Sept. 1980, 3; emphasis mine).

This may be why we see in D&C 1:37 that we are to "Search these commandments.”  It doesn't say, “Read these commandments” or “Study these commandments.” It says “Search.” (Elder Jacob de Jager, "Perfecting The Saints", BYU Fireside talk, Feb. 5, 1989).

(You can see a long list of scriptures which tell us to “search” – not “read” – the scriptures in my post “Why You Shouldn't Just ‘Read’ the Scriptures,” here)

The blessings of searching the scriptures are immeasurable. The sons of Mosiah:

"waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God." (Alma 17:2; emphasis mine)

President Joseph Fielding Smith said:

“If we will search these revelations then we will be fortified against errors and we will be made strong” (Oct. 1931 General Conference; emphasis mine).

President Spencer W. Kimball said,

“There are blessings that come from immersing ourselves in the scriptures. The distance narrows between ourselves and our Father in heaven. Our spirituality shines brighter. We love more intensely those whom we should love. It is much easier to follow counsel. The lessons of life are learned more readily and surely.” (Pres. Spencer W. Kimball, "Men of Example" -- Address given to Religious Educators, September 12, 1975, p. 2; emphasis mine)

And this, from Pres. Marion G. Romney:

"If we will be obedient to the Lord’s counsel to study the scriptures, the solemnities of eternity will indeed rest upon our minds." (Marion G. Romney, Ensign, Aug. 1985, p. 5.)

You may be asking yourself, “OK, great!  I’ll search the scriptures.  But what do I search?”  Try this:

“The best approach to studying the scriptures is one that is tailored to you.  Most books are read from beginning to end, but how often have you read “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents …” (1 Ne. 1:1) and not gotten to the end? I find most people don’t have the interest or discipline to completely read scriptures this way. For the motivated it does have the strong advantage of giving an overall perspective, since the scriptures are usually chronological.

There are several alternatives. Try approaching the scriptures with a specific subject or more general theme, using an index, concordance, and cross referencing footnotes. This can turn into an exciting adventure. Or, start with a need or problem facing you now. Such relevance is highly motivating.” (Stephen R. Covey, “Likening the Scriptures Unto Ourselves,” Ensign, Sept. 1974, 80)

In my opinion, Covey’s last suggestion – “start with a need or problem facing you now“ – is particularly helpful.  All of us have something we need to be praying about.  Maybe it’s the injustices and hurt of abuse or neglect, the weight of our sins, relationship problems, maybe some kind of fear, no matter if it's rooted in the present or future.  

I can assure you that when you feel like you're down to nothing, God is unmistakably up to something. Resonating with God can help you learn the lessons of life more readily and surely, bless you with the “solemnities of eternity”, fortify us against errors, narrow the distance between you and God and help you love more intensely those whom you should love.

3.  Visualize to Generate Greater Faith

In the Book of Ether, we see the Brother of Jared facing a pretty complex “need or problem”: how to ensure internal lighting of the barges he had been commanded to build.  We have no record of him turning to the scriptures for guidance on this quandary.  Quite the opposite, it was the Lord who posed the Brother of Jared the following question: “Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” (Ether 2:25). There’s nothing like God answering your question with another question...which sounds amazingly like the one you just asked Him.

Although we aren’t told this in Ether, I believe the Brother of Jared’s actions to solve this quandary were deliberate.  He intentionally climbed Mount Shelem, expended physical energy to acquire 16 small stones, expended more physical energy climbing to the top of the mount, expended emotional energy in crying again to the Lord, and in total humility and a fantastic expenditure of the spiritual energy called "faith", begged God to “touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.” (Ether 3:1-4). 

I believe the Brother of Jared not only believed, but also expected God could and would illuminate the stones that would literally light the way to the promised land.  Not only that, but he backed up that faith with real physical, emotional and spiritual sacrifice.  It is no wonder a loving, giving God would be thrilled with the efforts the Brother of Jared made, and was rewarded with the desires of his heart.

However, God wasn’t done with the Brother of Jared.  As God so often does with us, he went above and beyond mortal expectations.  In Ether 3:6, the Lord showed his finger, causing the brother of Jared to fall down before the Lord, struck with fear.

Then in Ether 3:9-14, the conversation takes and even grander, more glorious direction:

The Lord: Sawest thou more than this?

Brother of Jared: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.

The Lord: Believest thou the words which I shall speak?

Brother of Jared: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.

The Lord: (Showed himself unto him, and said): Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you. Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son.

The Brother of Jared believed God could solve his problem.  He expended significant physical, emotional and spiritual energy in demonstrating that belief, and was rewarded – gifted – with an outpouring of the Spirit that quite likely he hadn’t even considered.

Start Pondering…Today!

I believe both Joseph Smith (who read the scriptures and believed God would answer a question about his life) and the Brother of Jared (who conversed with God, then believed God would answer a question about his life) show us how to appropriately ponder.  When you truly ponder the scriptures and expend the physical, emotional and spiritual energy to get answers about your life, or to know the Savior better, you will be rewarded…and make no mistake, God is fully capable of not only answering your questions, but also, giving you far greater insights than you may deserve.

In my previous blog posts, “Seeing Christ -- Part 2” and “Seeing Christ -- Part 3”, I gave you an easily implementable strategy which could help you visualize the scriptures.  Although I cannot be with you in person right now, if I could, I would look you in the eyes and testify to you that there is real faith, real power, in visualization.

It is no small thing to listen to John 8:1-7, and in your mind’s eye, you see a woman caught in adultery. And with tenderness and gentleness that only a God could give, he provides her with unparalleled understanding and hope.

It is no small thing to listen to Ether 3, then all alone, you expend great physical, emotional and spiritual effort to compose a resume in hopes of ending a sojourn in the deserts of unemployment, and to see God figuratively touch that very same resume with a result that far exceeded what you dreamed of.

It is no small thing to listen, all alone, in the stillness of the night, to a recording of 3 Nephi 11, and in your mind’s eye, you see the Savior of the world descend out of heaven in a pure white robe, announce his identity and reveal the piercings in his hands and wrists which he willingly received…for you.

It is no small thing to ponder what you saw throughout the days and weeks, and to reflect – time and again – on the tears that streamed down your cheeks as you saw these events unfold in your mind’s eye.

Brothers and Sisters, I invite you to prayerfully share your experiences pondering the scriptures – even anonymously, if you so desire.  But even more importantly, I invite you to position your tuning fork to resonate with God.  Search His word on whatever you’re inspired to study.  Ponder His words. Expend whatever energies you can in acquiring those insights, and fully expect a miracle from the God of Miracles. 

Joseph Smith did, Nephi did and the Brother of Jared did.  And, as you’ve been promised, you can, too.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pondering the Word of God, Part 1 - The Divine Tuning Fork

On September 5, 1993, Elder James E. Faust gave a little-known but terrific BYU Fireside Address  (the entirety is found here) about tuning in to the Spirit.  If possible, please watch this brief, 3:53 minute Youtube excerpt of his speech; it’s well worth your time…

One of the passages in this talk particularly resonated with me:

“Learn to ponder the things of the Spirit and to respond to its promptings; filter out the static generated by Satan. As you become attuned to the Spirit, ‘thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it’ (Isaiah 30:21).”

In the May 2004 First Presidency message, Elder Faust expanded the metaphor of the radio:

My first radio was a crystal set. It was hard to tune to the frequency of a particular radio station. I had to literally scratch the receiving wire whisker over the top of the rough crystal to find the right pinpoint, a little valley or peak on the crystal where the signal was received. Just a millimeter off on either side of that point and I would lose the signal and get scratchy static. Over time, with patience and perseverance, good eyesight, and a steady hand, I learned to find the signal point on the crystal without too much difficulty.

So it is with inspiration. We must attune ourselves to the inspiration from God and tune out the scratchy static. We have to work at being tuned in. Most of us need a long time to become tuned in. When I was a newly called General Authority, President Marion G. Romney, who was in his 70s at the time, told us, “I know when I am working under the Spirit and when I am not.” To be able to recognize when one is being guided by the Spirit is a supernal gift.

In terms of modern communication, crystal radio sets helped us emerge from the dark ages of communication. With advanced technology, cellular phones are used for much of the communication in our time. Occasionally, however, we find dead spots where the signal coming to a cell phone fails. This can happen when the cell phone user is in a tunnel or a canyon or when there is other interference.

So it is with divine communication. The still, small voice, though still and small, is very powerful. It “whispereth through and pierceth all things” (D&C 85:6).  But like my old crystal set, the message may be there but we fail to pick it up. Perhaps something in our lives prevents us from hearing the message because we are “past feeling” (1 Ne. 17:45).  We often put ourselves in spiritual dead spots—places and situations that block out divine messages. Some of these dead spots include anger, pornography, transgression, selfishness, and other situations that offend the Spirit.

Indeed, the signals of the Spirit are so subtle, they are almost imperceptible to the telestial soul.  And in our harried, busy, distracted modern-day lives, we need every advantage, every strategy possible, to effectively “tune in” to the Spirit so we can ponder God’s words.

To do just that, we need a divine tuning fork, something which resonates with God so accurately and reliably, that it is literally and figuratively “in tune” with God at any given time.  If you'd like to discover one, then keep reading.

The Divine Tuning Fork

If you’re not very familiar with tuning forks, they are classified by as “an acoustic resonator,” where (if its pitch is correct) the vibrating sound waves produced by tuning fork #1 will create a similar vibration/kinetic energy/”sympathetic resonance” (I love that phrase) in nearby tuning fork #2.

Not surprisingly, angels exhibit a kind of spiritual “sympathetic resonance” with the Savior:

“Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:3)

Prophets and apostles can also display spiritual “sympathetic resonance”:

“And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.” (D&C 68:4)

In fact, all souls are designed to behave like a spiritual “tuning fork”:

“the Spirit of the Lord comes at its own unique frequency; you will resonate to it if you are in tune with it. But if your frequency is different, you will not respond or resonate with the same spirit…Now, tuning forks cannot change their frequencies, but people can. They can become in tune with the Spirit.” (here)

Or, as Nephi stated,

“For when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost [Tuning Fork #1] the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it [the sympathetic resonance] unto the hearts of the children of men [Tuning Fork #2].” (2 Nephi 33:1)

Pondering: The Key to Activating Your Spiritual Tuning Fork

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are many examples of people who used pondering God's word to activate a kind of "spiritual tuning fork" which was attuned to God. And, as you'll soon see in some cases, this pondering was accompanied by great physical, emotional and spiritual sacrifices which not only provided the seeker with insights into their own life, but also, breathtaking manifestations of the Spirit.

  • Nephi [1] desired to know the things that his father saw, and [2] believed that the Lord was able to make them known unto him.  This wasn’t just a momentary thought; he [3] pondered them in his heart.  The result: he had an epiphany (1 Ne. 11:1).  He was thrilled with this result, so much so that his exuberance still "rings" true 2,600 years later: "My soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them.... Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard" (2 Nephi 4:15-16).

  • President Joseph F. Smith sat in his room “pondering over the Scriptures” (particularly 1 Peter 3:19) on October 3, 1918.  As a result of that pondering, the eyes of his understanding were opened, “and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great…” (D&C 138).

Experiences Available to Anybody

Now, some might be tempted to say, “Sure, they got these special revelatory experiences because they were prophets.” I disagree. 

God is no respecter of persons. He will give revelation to me and to you on the same terms and conditions. I can see what Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon saw in the vision of the degrees of glory—and so can you. I can entertain angels and see God, I can receive an outpouring of the gifts of the Spirit—and so can you.” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, October 1969 General Conference; emphasis mine)

". . . God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 149; Elder Bruce R. McConkie, October 1969 General Conference)

“I desire to point attention, however, to the fact that revelation is not restricted to the prophet of God on earth. The visions of eternity are not reserved for Apostles - they are not reserved for the General Authorities. Revelation is something that should come to every individual. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and every soul, in the ultimate sense, is just as precious in his sight as the souls of those that are called to positions of leadership. Because he operates on principles of eternal, universal and never-deviating law, any individual that abides the law which entitles him to get revelation can know exactly and precisely what any prophet knows, can entertain angels just as well as Joseph Smith entertained them, and can be in tune in full measure with all of the things of the Spirit (Alma 26:21-22)." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "How to Get Personal Revelation," Ensign, June 1980, pp. 46-50; emphasis mine)

(Wow, there’s that “tune” word again.)

Elder McConkie’s comments are entirely in agreement with the Savior:

"For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.
Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.
And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.
Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations.
And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.
For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man." (D&C 76:5-10.)

Hopefully, you can see by now that pondering the word of God can and will help one to resonate with God, which may yield tremendous spiritual insights and outpourings of the Spirit.  Such experiences can be enjoyed by all -- not just prophets and apostles.

In my next post, we’ll discuss the basic principles behind pondering…and how others used these principles to not only gain insights into their life, but to also part the veil.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Enter the Presence of the Lord

A Modern-Day Prophet’s Invitation

Imagine, for a moment, the President of the Church getting up in General Conference and telling the general membership – if not the entire world – the key to opening the most secret, sacred doors through which we could pass into the presence of the Lord. 

Imagine the effect the knowledge of that key would have in every family, every man, woman and child on the planet.  Imagine the possibilities it would have in your own life.

Actually, such an announcement was made by the President of the Church, although it was in the Improvement Era in 1967, not a 2012 General Conference.  Still, the significance of his announcement is undiminished. 

Here, now, is what a prophet said on how he, we, you can enter the divine presence:

“I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion.

In our worship there are two elements: one is spiritual communion rising from our own meditation; the other instruction from others, particularly from those who have authority to guide and instruct us. Of the two, the more profitable introspectively is meditation.

Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord" (Pres. David O. McKay, “Consciousness of God: Supreme Goal of Life,” Improvement Era, June 1967, pp. 80–82).

I want to emphasize that last sentence again:

"Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord."

Isn’t it interesting that almost 45 years later, his successor would briefly echo his comments by saying:

"In this fast-paced life, do we ever pause for moments of meditation—even thoughts of timeless truths?" (Pres. Thomas S. Monson, "The Race of Life," April 2012 General Conference)

Pres. McKay said “I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion” (“Man May Know for Himself”, p. 22–23).  However, I believe it’s never too late for us – you and I – to not only pay attention to it, but to also experiment with it so that we, too, can enter the “most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord.”

I've read many, many conference talks and Ensign articles mentioning the word "meditation".   In almost all cases, "meditation" is considered synonymous with reflection, introspection, "profound contemplation" or "deep thought".  However, the words “ponder” and “meditate” often exhibit subtle differences.


Pondering often involves deeply contemplating the words of God:

  • Moroni used the term as he closed his record saying, “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things … that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men … and ponder it in your hearts." (Moroni 10:3). 
  • When the angel appeared to Mary to tell her that she was to be the mother of Christ, Luke 2:19 says, "Mary kept these things, and pondered them in her heart."
  • Jesus said to the Nephites, “I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand. …” (3 Ne. 17:2-3)
  • Nephi tells us of one such occasion, “For it came to pass," he wrote, "after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceeding high mountain. …” (1 Ne. 11:1)  Then follows Nephi's account of the great vision he was given by the Spirit of the Lord, because he believed the words of his prophet father and had such a great desire to know more that he pondered and prayed about them.  In fact, Nephi went on to exult: "My soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them.... Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard." (2 Nephi 4:15-16.)  
  • President Joseph F. Smith tells us that "on the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the Scriptures. …” He had particular reference at this time to Peter's statement that Christ "went and preached unto the spirits in prison" (1 Pet. 3:19) while his body lay in the grave. “As I pondered over these things which are written," President Smith continued, "the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great. …” The result: D&C 138.
Look at these accounts.  Connect the dots.  In each of these cases, the individuals were given the word of God, received and deeply contemplated them.

Meditation, on the other hand, involves repositioning oneself away from the storms, turmoil, chaos, loudness and confusion of life to a solitary, peaceful environment to become better attuned to, and eventually enjoy the presence of, divinity.  Again, this involves minimizing one’s involvements with the physical world for a time in order to concentrate on something inner, on ideas and feelings (Chauncey C. Riddle, "Prayer", Ensign, Mar. 1975).

Christ filled his mortal life with meditative examples.  As soon as he was baptized and received the Father’s approval, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3:17) Jesus went to what is now known as the Mount of Temptation.  As Pres. David O. McKay stated,

"I like to think of it as the Mount of Meditation where, during the forty days of fasting, he communed with himself and his Father, and contemplated upon the responsibility of his great mission. One result of this spiritual communion was such strength as enabled him to say to the tempter: “'…Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.' (Matt. 4:10)" (Conference Report, Apr. 1946, 113).

In solitude, in communion, “he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12) – a necessary action he took before he gave his Sermon on the Mount.

He did the same thing after a busy Sabbath day, when he arose early in the morning, after having been the guest of Peter: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, Jesus went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.” (Mark 1:35)  Peter undoubtedly found the guest chamber empty, and when they sought Jesus, they found him alone.

Again, after Jesus had fed the five thousand he told the Twelve to dismiss the multitude, but Jesus went to the mountain for solitude. The historian says, “when the evening was come, he was there alone.” (Matt. 14:23)

Relatable, Reproducible Meditation

Yet it was Joseph Smith’s spiritual journey which provides us a very relatable, and very reproducible, method of successfully pondering and meditating.  Even 191 years later, his example illuminates the way for others to follow his path.

We all know Joseph Smith’s recounting of the First Vision (here).  The thing that stands out to me, though, are some key words he used in his account.  These are, in many ways, spiritual breadcrumbs he left behind, so that we, too, could replicate his experience (a very “Joseph-like” thing).

I’m going to copy and paste some of what he said in Joseph Smith-History.  And with what you know (so far) about pondering and meditation, see if you can find the breadcrumbs, the indications that he engaged in true pondering and then meditation…

8 During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.
9 My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant…
10 In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?
11 I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse…
12 I reflected on it again and again…
14 So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty.
15 After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God.

Now, your results may have varied from mine somewhat, but here’s what I discovered:

Joseph pondered

  mind was called up to serious
     (amidst) great confusion and strife
  Greatly excited mind
     Great and incessant cry and tumult
10 war of words and tumult of opinions
     often said to myself
12 reflected on it again and again…

Joseph meditated

14 determination
     retired to the woods
     the morning
15 retired to the place where I had previously designed to go
     found himself alone
     kneeled down
     offered up the desires of his heart to God

Joseph’s journey progressed from pondering (verses 8-12) to later meditating (verses 14-15).  And we all know what happened next.

And now, it’s your turn…

In the next blog post, we’ll start to walk this same path that Joseph walked.  We’ll follow and experiment with his breadcrumbs of pondering and meditating carefully, deliberately and thoughtfully – all of which (at least, in Joseph’s case) culminated in an inevitable result…

…the same result Pres. McKay mentioned we could have:

Entering the divine presence.

Are you up for the challenge?