Hearing with our ears—and our hearts

Ten years ago this month—on Wednesday, 17 January 2001, to be exact—I entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, to begin my service as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was there that I had one of my most profound experiences of being taught by the Spirit.

One day in class, we were having a discussion on 3 Nephi 11. This chapter records the beginning of Jesus Christ’s ministry among the Nephites and Lamanites. That made it an important chapter to us as missionaries; we would usually ask new investigators, on our first visit, to read this chapter as a starting point in developing a testimony of the Book of Mormon and of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

This class discussion took the form of a question-and-answer session: one member of the class would ask another about a particular verse or aspect of the chapter, and the other class member would give a response. This exchange was done in front of the entire class. Once the response was given, another member of the class would ask a question directed to another classmate, and so on.

A sister missionary was the first up to ask a question, and she decided to direct her question to me. She referred to verse 8:

And it came to pass, as they understood they cast their eyes up again towards heaven; and behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe; and he came down and stood in the midst of them; and the eyes of the whole multitude were turned upon him, and they durst not open their mouths, even one to another, and wist not what it meant, for they thought it was an angel that had appeared unto them.

She then asked, “Why did the people think that an angel had appeared to them?”

My first though was, Well, that’s a bit of a silly question. Surely there’s something more profound she can think of to ask than that! Then, despite my skepticism, the Spirit had an opportunity to teach me something that was truly profound.

I looked at the preceding verses. In verse 3 we read that the people “heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard.” In the next verse, the people hear the voice a second time and yet again fail to understand it. Then a third time they hear the voice, but this time is a little different: they “did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came.”

The voice was that of the Father introducing Jesus Christ: “Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him.” It is in the next verse that we read the people thought it was an angel who had appeared unto them. So, clearly, they understood the voice’s words, but they failed to comprehend the voice’s message. Why?

Look back at verse 5. They “open[ed] their ears to hear” the voice, “and their eyes were towards the sound thereof.” What was missing?

“Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2). They had attuned their physical senses—their eyes and their ears—to the Lord’s voice, but they hadn’t turned their spiritual senses—their hearts—to his message.

The same applies to us in our own lives. We can hear the Lord’s words and we can see his work moving forward. We may even go through the motions ourselves. But unless we open our hearts to his gospel and his message, we will fail, as did those in the Western Hemisphere who were witnessing Jesus Christ’s coming among them, to see the Lord’s presence in our lives.

This article appeared on page 19 of Issue 1 | January 2011.

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