I’m grateful to worship with you in church today. I’m grateful also to remember the Lord through the ordinance of the sacrament. There’s something wonderful that happens when we partake of the sacrament. It’s not magic, but even after all these years, I can’t really explain why it’s so special and sacred. It just is.
The sacrament helps me to feel loved and closer to the Lord. I wish I could keep that feeling with me every day, all week long. I could not speak with you today about Becoming the Pure in Heart without the power of the sacrament and the atonement of Jesus Christ in my life. I am grateful for His gift of forgiveness.
I love the Savior. He has done so much for me and has asked so little in return. Actually, He has probably asked a whole lot more of me but I haven’t been listening. I have been dragging my feet about doing what He has asked. I am not pure in heart, but I want to be. Thus, I’m grateful for this assignment.
Promised Day is Approaching
When President Kimball spoke on this subject in General Conference many years ago (April 1978), he shared a scripture that impressed me. In section 58 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we read:
“Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation.
For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand. Remember this, which I tell you before, that you may lay it to heart, and receive that which is to follow.
Behold, verily I say unto you, for this cause I have sent you—that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come; And also that you might be honored in laying the foundation, and in bearing record of the land upon which the Zion of God shall stand;
And after that cometh the day of my power; then shall the poor, the lame, and the blind, and the deaf, come in unto the marriage of the Lamb, and partake of the supper of the Lord, prepared for the great day to come.”
President Kimball promised, “This day will come. It is our destiny to help bring it about.” He asked, “Doesn’t it motivate you to lengthen your stride and quicken your pace as you do your part in the great sanctifying work of the kingdom? It does me. It causes me to rejoice…”
Something Majestic and Divine
In a more recent General Conference address in Nov 2002, Keith B. McMullin, now an emeritus General Authority tells this story, related to a hymn we sing that pertains to the coming forth of Zion. He said:
“As a young boy growing up in southern Utah, the concepts of Zion were much less clear to me than they are today. We lived in a small town not far from Zion National Park. In church we often sang the familiar words (Hymn #7):
Israel, Israel, God is calling,
Calling thee from lands of woe.
Babylon the great is falling;
God shall all her tow’rs o’erthrow.
Come to Zion, come to Zion
Ere his floods of anger flow.
Come to Zion, come to Zion
Ere his floods of anger flow.
“In my little-boy mind, I saw the magnificent cliffs and towering stone pinnacles of that national park. Meandering through the high-walled canyons flowed a river of water—sometimes placid, sometimes a raging torrent. You can probably imagine the confusion experienced as this little boy tried to put together the words of the hymn with the familiar surroundings of that beautiful park.
Though it was not a perfect fit, lodged in my mind was the impression that Zion was something majestic and divine. Over the years, a grander understanding has emerged. In the scriptures we read,
“Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion—the pure in heart; therefore let Zion rejoice…” (D&C 97:21)
We are Favored of God
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; … they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; but they died without the sight; we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory.”
As Carol taught, Zion is both a place and a people. The Lord called Enoch’s people Zion “because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” Although we have certainly not yet achieved that state, we often sing hymn #5 as a reminder:
High on the mountain top
A banner is unfurled.
Ye nations, now look up;
It waves to all the world.
In Deseret’s sweet, peaceful land,
On Zion’s mount behold it stand!
For God remembers still
His promise made of old
That he on Zion’s hill
Truth’s standard would unfold!
Her light should there attract the gaze
Of all the world in latter days.
Zion and the Temple
In the meridian of time, when the sun was setting on the mortal ministry of the Messiah, he departed the temple at Jerusalem for the last time. Climbing atop the Mount of Olives with his disciples, the Savior prophesied the cataclysmic events that would precede the destruction of Jerusalem and his second coming. He then issued this portentous admonition to his disciples, ancient and modern: “Then you shall stand in the holy place; whoso readeth let him understand.”
Latter-day revelations provide understanding. They teach that in our day, amidst strife and catastrophe and pestilence, there are two kingdoms locked in grim struggle for the souls of men—Zion and Babylon. More than once they repeat the injunction to “stand in holy places” for a refuge from these storms of latter-day life. Prominent among such holy places, and key to all the others, is the temple of the Lord. The words Zion and temple belong in the same sentence together.
Summer Cottage in Babylon
Much of the work to be done in establishing Zion consists in our individual efforts to become the pure in heart. “Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom,” said the Lord; “otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.” (D&C 105:5)
The law of the celestial kingdom is, of course, the gospel law and covenants, which include our constant remembrance of the Savior and our pledge of obedience, sacrifice, consecration, and fidelity.
To come to Zion, it is not enough for you or me to be somewhat less wicked than others. We are to become not only good but holy men and women. Recalling Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s phrase, let us once and for all establish our residence in Zion and give up the summer cottage in Babylon.
The Blessings of Heaven
We must lay on the altar and sacrifice whatever is required by the Lord. We begin by offering a “broken heart and a contrite spirit.” We follow this by giving our best effort in our assigned fields of labor and callings. We learn our duty and execute it fully. Finally we consecrate our time, talents and means as called upon by our file leaders and as prompted by the whisperings of the Spirit.
In the Church … we can give expression to every ability, every righteous desire, every thoughtful impulse. Whether a volunteer, father, home teacher, bishop, or neighbor, whether a visiting teacher, mother, homemaker, or friend—there is ample opportunity to give our all. And as we give, we find that “sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven!” And in the end, we learn it was no sacrifice at all.
We can See the Lord
OK, I’ve finished sharing quotes from the assigned material. I’d like to add a few personal thoughts about my own struggle to become pure in heart. As I said in the beginning, I’m not. But I want to be. Why?
Blessed are the Pure in Heart for They Shall See God (Matthew 5:8)
Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who
1. forsaketh his sins and
2. cometh unto me, and
3. calleth on my name, and
4. obeyeth my voice, and
5. keepeth my commandments,
shall see my face and know that I am;
My Personal Witness
I’ve asked the Lord in prayer for permission to share a somewhat sacred experience from my college days. He said yes. In this story I’m going to relate a great effort I made at that time to purify my heart. This is from my journal. It occurred over 35 years ago.
I was 17 years old at the time. It was in the Fall of 1974. My family joined the Church in 1962 when I was five. I feel I grew up as a member of the Church. I attended Primary, Sunday school, Mutual and Seminary. However, during my Senior year of High School, there was about a six to eight month period of time that I hung with the wrong kind of friends and did not attend church. In short, I had some repenting to do and felt a strong desire to know my standing before the Lord.
Early in the Fall of 1974, I attended an assembly at Ricks College, now BYU Idaho, in which I distinctly remember President Henry B. Eyring introducing Elder LeGrand Richards as our devotional speaker. I had heard Elder Richards speak in General Conference before but I had never been in the same meeting with him in which I could feel his spirit and sense his enthusiasm for the gospel. Something in me caused me to sit still and pay careful attention to what he was saying.
As he taught the gospel and bore fervent testimony of the work of the Lord I remember thinking to myself how much I would like to be able to speak with the power, confidence and enthusiasm that he had. A distinct impression came over me, and I attribute this to the whisperings of the spirit, that I could have that same witness that Elder Richards had and that I could teach like that someday if I would pay the price of study, devotion, obedience and especially of intense prayer.
Led by the Lord
As I left the devotional assembly I pondered long and hard the message I had felt from the spirit. Like Joseph said, I reflected upon it again and again. Never had anything penetrated my heart so deeply. I felt drawn to the possibility that I could know what Elder Richards knew and that I could receive it in the way he testified – through humble prayer and revelation from the Lord. I wanted to know what the Lord thought of my efforts to repent thus far and my efforts to become pure in heart.
On Friday, I determined I was going to put the promise to the test. My roommate was gone for the evening to a dance so I knew I would have a few hours alone to talk to the Lord in prayer. I felt filled with desire as I began my efforts and was impressed that the words flowed so easily. It was clear to me that the spirit was directing my thoughts and helping me to express myself. I am confident I went on for a solid hour reviewing my life with the Lord as I prayed aloud.
The second hour was not so easy. In fact, it became very difficult to confess my sins of the year that had passed and to have revealed to me the effects my actions had upon myself and on others. Tears flowed as I saw how I had hurt myself and others and again, the spirit impressed me how the Lord felt about my sadness and the misery that I had caused for myself. I felt no judgment or condemnation, only that the Lord was pained because of my pain and that he wanted to heal me.
Finally, in the third hour, I was in agony as I pled with the Lord to forgive me and to restore to me the innocence and happiness I had once felt before the days of my rebellion. I asked again and again for relief. I wanted to know that I had been forgiven and that I would yet be able to make something of my life in spite of the sin and disobedience of earlier days. I pleaded and begged for a witness or a manifestation of the Lord’s love for me and that I had been forgiven.
Opposition is real
Toward the end of the third hour I saw clearly in my mind’s eye the reality of the existence of unclean and evil spirits. As I recalled moments of my sinful behavior, the Lord showed to me that I was not alone, that there were beings from the unseen world participating with me in my sin. I was appalled at the scenes I was recalling and abhorred the fact that the adversary had used me during those moments. My pain was real and I was suffering terribly.
Just as I was about to give up in despair that I would receive no relief from my torment, just as I had about decided that my emotional outpouring of grief and misery were in vain, I realized that something unusual was happening about and within me. I began to sit very still and to pay close attention to what I was feeling or rather sensing. A tangible feeling of peace descended upon me. A feeling of happiness entered into my heart and mind. It was powerful, almost a sense of euphoria.
Warmth filled my being from head to toe. I sensed light all around and within me. This is the most difficult and personal part to describe of what I experienced. I did not see anything with my eyes. I did not hear anything with my ears. But I knew that I was not alone at that moment. I sensed the presence of my Savior. I felt His love. I basked in it for a moment before I realized I was hearing words, even full sentences in my mind. I saw myself at some future time in my life, participating in sacred and powerful events related to the gospel.
I can’t adequately describe what I saw in my mind’s eye and felt in my heart, but I can tell you I sat transfixed for what seemed like another hour as scene after potential scene of my life was revealed to me. I both saw and heard myself speaking and teaching the gospel with that same kind of confidence I had seen in Elder Richards earlier in that week. I knew as I was seeing this that it was not guaranteed, but was conditional upon my willingness to prepare for it.
From then on, everything changed. I knew I would soon be going on a mission. I knew I would marry in the temple. I knew I would accept and serve faithfully in many callings over the years. I knew I would serve in leadership positions in my wards and stakes. I saw myself doing all these things. I especially saw myself teaching and speaking from the pulpit, hearing specific things that I would be saying and teaching. It was amazing to me.
Now, as I said this was a personal and sacred experience. I share it with you because I felt prompted by the Lord to do so. If you are not familiar with the revelatory process you could describe this as the frenzies of a deranged mind, brought on by emotional distress over the imagined need to repent for what I considered sins. Anyone can say what they like, but to me it was real. Nobody will ever be able to take away this experience that I still hold sacred. The feelings that accompanied this revelation are indescribable but filled me with joy.
Conclusion and Invitation
At that time in my life, I knew I had been made whole. The healing came from being in the presence of the Lord. I knew He was there. I felt His presence. I was healed but I was not as pure as I should have been. He ministered unto me and showed me things about my life that allowed me to progress and grow. The pure in heart shall see God. I long for the day when I can return to the kind of faith I had back then and come back into the Lord’s presence. Perhaps then I will see Him. May we each seek to be pure in heart as we prepare to dwell in Zion.