The Power of Pondering
by Elder Scott D. Whiting
Good morning, my dear brothers and sisters. I am honored to be with you today and so very grateful that I have received this assignment from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I congratulate President Kusch on his recent appointment as president of the LDS Business College. I know that he will bless you with his leadership just as you will bless him with your righteous examples.
I have pondered much about what I should speak on today and while engaged in that process I had the distinct impression that I should speak about that very process—that is, pondering and the power that comes to us when we ponder over sacred things.
Pondering is a spiritual principle that is often spoken of in scripture and by prophets, seers, and revelators, but I have learned that not many of us know how to ponder or how to do so with the degree of effectiveness that will unlock the desired results. It is my hope that I may be able to help you learn to develop this gift.
Let’s begin by considering what pondering is. The dictionary defines the word “ponder” in the following ways:
“to weigh in the mind, to think about and reflect on”, and “to think or consider quietly, soberly and deeply” (“Ponder.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 4 Oct. 2017).
Another word used as a synonym is the word “meditate.”
From my own experience, I have learned that pondering is an active process that requires discipline, focus, and persistence. Learning to ponder requires practice and through practice, you can come to learn of the power that comes from pondering.
Elder Marvin J. Ashton taught that, “pondering is a progressive mental pursuit. It is a gift to those who have learned to use it” (Marvin J. Ashton, October 1987 General Conference, “There are Many Gifts”).
By way of contrast, the opposite of pondering is “wandering”. The dictionary defines “wandering” as “losing normal mental contact, and straying in thought” (“Wander.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 4 Oct. 2017). Something that will likely happen to most of you as my talk progresses this morning.
Even though these are opposite actions, I have learned that there is a fine line that separates pondering and wandering. Perhaps you have had experiences like me when you are trying to ponder only to find your mind seemingly a million miles away from what you intended to think deeply about.
The scriptures are filled with rich and helpful examples of both how to ponder and the power that comes from pondering. First, let’s look at some examples of how others have successfully used pondering as a spiritual tool.
In the last section of the Doctrine and Covenants, President Joseph F. Smith gives us a great account of the pondering process he used to receive the comforting and instructive revelation on our kindred dead. Listen to the description he gives in Section 138:
On the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures; (Doctrine & Covenants 138:1).
And, reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God for the redemption of the world (Doctrine & Covenants 138:2).
While I was thus engaged, my mind reverted to the writings of the Apostle Peter… (Doctrine & Covenants 138:5).
So, what do we learn about the process of pondering from these scriptures? I have identified four steps? First, he sat in his room. Now that may not sound like a very important part of the process. However, please consider how many times you have “sat in your room” with no music, no television or any other distractions? Just you, alone, in your room. (I’m sorry, but lying on your bed doesn’t count.) By sitting in his room, President Smith set the stage for the commencement of the pondering process. He eliminated distractions and created a sacred space where he could think deeply about sacred things. Interestingly, Nephi also included sitting as part of his pondering process. In first Nephi, chapter 11 verse 1 it reads, “For it came to pass 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,…” Apparently, sitting is a good start to this process.
The second step, after he prepared the time and the environment, was to begin the pondering process by thinking deeply over the scriptures he had read. Involving scripture in the process of pondering is a crucial step. It connects us with Heaven and the powers available through that connection. All too often we tend to approach our scripture reading as a task that needs to be completed quickly so that we can move on to other studies or activities. It is as though we have a checklist in our heads and daily scripture reading is merely one more box to be ticked. Perhaps we have a hurried and undisciplined scripture study. From personal experience, I know that my learning from the scriptures is greatly enhanced if I slow down and think deeply upon what I am reading. As an example, when I read the Book of Mormon I like to ask myself questions as I am reading. Knowing that this book was written for our day, I ask, “what application does this scripture have for me?” or, “why did a loving Heavenly Father include this verse or story among others that were not included?” And, “What am I to learn from this?” Asking these questions is how I “liken all scripture unto [myself]” (1 Nephi 19:23,24). I even like to insert myself into the stories of the Book of Mormon and wonder how I would have responded if I had been present. Would I have murmured like Laman and Lemuel or moved forward with faith like Nephi, Sam and Jacob? Would I have lamented the breaking of Nephi’s bow or been a problem solver and fashion a new bow and arrow to provide my family?” Would I have helped Nephi build a ship, or mocked him for thinking that he could do so? The questions truly go on and on.
Slowing down and thinking more deeply about what I am reading has helped me develop a greater ability to ponder. Recently, I have been focusing my daily Book of Mormon study on a specific Christ-like attribute that I would like to obtain. I am finding that by reading deliberately and with a specific purpose rather than a goal to just “finish,” I am seeing the familiar passages of the Book of Mormon with new eyes. I am seeing and understanding things that I have not seen nor understood before. By seeing new things, it is helping me think more deeply about the doctrine and principles being taught, which then leads me to greater insights on how to apply what I am learning in my daily life. All of this is hopefully, helping me to develop attributes of Jesus Christ which will help me to more fully know Him and his character.
President Howard W. Hunter counseled us this way, “We should not be haphazard in our reading but rather develop a systematic plan for study. There are some who read to a schedule of a number of pages or a set number of chapters each day or week. This may be perfectly justifiable and may be enjoyable if one is reading for pleasure, but it does not constitute meaningful study. It is better to have a set amount of time to give scriptural study each day than to have a set amount of chapters to read. Sometimes we find that the study of a single verse will occupy the whole time” (Howard W. Hunter, “Reading the Scriptures,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64). Have you ever had the experience of spending your whole scripture study on just one verse? Perhaps that is difficult to imagine, but as you develop the gift of pondering you will have such experiences from time to time and it will be most gratifying.
The third step used by President Joseph F. Smith was to reflect upon the teachings and doctrine of God. In this case it was the atonement of Jesus Christ. Is there any topic more important to truly think deeply about than the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ? I know that there is much that we cannot understand about this greatest event in history, but we can certainly come to know Him and more fully appreciate the selfless sacrifice of our Savior by reflecting and thinking deeply about what He has done for us. Perhaps you can begin to practice pondering during your weekly sacrament meetings when you will sit in a room and hear scripture in the form of the prayers offered over the emblematic bread and water and then reflect upon the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Learning to develop the gift of pondering will truly enhance your Sabbath day experience and bring deeper meaning to the sacred ordinance of the sacrament.
The young boy, Joseph Smith, also teaches us the importance of reflecting on scripture when he shares that he “reflected on [the powerful words in James 1:5] again, and again” (Joseph Smith—History 1:12).
The fourth step is to engage. President Smith’s use of this word furtherer teaches us that pondering is not a passive activity. The word engage is a word of affirmative action. We must engage our minds in the process to gain its accompanying power and benefits. You will notice that while he was “engaged,” his mind “reverted,” (Doctrine & Covenants 138:5) or returned, to the writings of Peter. Oftentimes when we ponder we are led to other scripture that helps answer, deepen, or clarify our thoughts and questions. “Reverting” or being lead to other scripture, or reflections on sacred things should not be confused with wandering. As we learn to effectively ponder, we will often times be directed to other doctrines and principles that build upon each other. This is part of learning “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30) which is spoken of so many times in the scriptures. It is through this process that we bring the gospel of Jesus Christ more deeply into our hearts thereby deepening our conversion.
So, in review what do we learn from President Smith’s experience about the process of pondering?
First, we sit in our room. We need to prepare a quiet place free from distractions.
Second, we read scripture with the desire to learn from them, rather than to just finish, by thinking deeply about what we are reading.
Third, we reflect upon what we have read and think about it again and again
And, fourth, we engage our minds in an active process.
Now, what then, is the power that comes from this process? Again, we turn to President Smith’s experience where he shares that “as [he] pondered over the things which are written [in scripture], the eyes of [his] understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon [him],” (Doctrine & Covenants 138:11) and he received revelation. Clearly, the power that comes from pondering is the power to receive revelation. (It should be noted, that as President of the Church, Joseph F. Smith received revelation for the Church and the world on that day. Our revelation will be appropriately limited to the sphere of our area of assigned stewardship, whether it be personal, family or our own callings) (Doctrine & Covenants 28:2,7). As Elder Ashton taught, “By pondering, we give the Spirit an opportunity to impress and direct…If we use the gift to ponder we can take [the] eternal truths [in the scriptures] and realize [through personal revelation] how we can incorporate them in our daily lives” (Marvin J. Ashton, October 1987 General Conference, “There are Many Gifts”).
While pondering, Joseph F. Smith received timely and comforting revelation for the Church and the world when he saw the great vision concerning the Savior’s visit to the spirits of the dead while His body was yet in the tomb. (To more fully understand the importance of this revelation at this time, it should be noted that World War I was raging, and the influenza epidemic had started to spread across the land. Many families were mourning the loss of loved ones, including President Smith who, ill himself, suffered the loss of his eldest son earlier in the year to an illness)( Robert L. Millet, “The Vision of the Redemption of the Dead (D&C 138),” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Doctrine and Covenants ). In this vision, the prophet saw “an innumerable company of the spirits of the just who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality” (Doctrine & Covenants 138:12). He saw “Father Adam, the Ancient of Days and father of all, and our glorious mother Eve with her many faithful daughters” (Doctrine & Covenants 138:38,39). He saw Noah (Doctrine & Covenants 138:41), Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses (Doctrine & Covenants 138:4) and other prophets of the Old Testament. He saw the prophets of the restoration—Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff (Doctrine & Covenants 138:53). And, perhaps, most comfortingly given the time in which this vision was given, he “beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance. . ., among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead” (Doctrine & Covenants 138:57).
In chapter 11 of First Nephi, after Nephi “sat pondering,” (1 Nephi 11:1) he was shown not only the dream that his father saw, but also learned the meaning of the symbolic elements in the dream. He was also shown the condescension of God the Father and God, the Son through the birth of Jesus Christ to a “virgin [who] was exceedingly fair” (1 Nephi 11:13, 16-18, 26). He saw the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus (1 Nephi 11:27). He saw the discovery of the promised land (1 Nephi 13:12). The coming forth of the Bible (1 Nephi 20-28), the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 13:34,35), and “other books” (1 Nephi 13:39). The list of what Nephi saw goes on and on, all because he “was desirous also that he might see, and hear and know of” (1 Nephi 10:17) the things which is father saw,” so, he “sat pondering” (1 Nephi 11:1) in his heart. Is it no wonder that we sing the words, “To Nephi, Seer of olden time, A vision came from God” (“The Iron Rod,” Hymns, no. 274)?
We see that same power of revelation descending upon Helaman’s son Nephi as recorded in Helaman chapter 10. This is after Nephi correctly revealed that the chief judge had just been murdered by his own brother at the judgment-seat (Helaman 8:27). Nephi, perhaps, marveling over what was revealed to him, “went his way towards his own house, pondering upon the things which the Lord had shown unto him” (Helaman 10:2). “. . .As he was thus pondering in his heart, behold, a voice came unto him saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou has done…” (Helaman 10:3,4). After having been praised of God for his courage and steadiness and for his loyalty in keeping the commandments, he is given this personal promise, “ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence and destruction.” (Helaman 10:6) And even more significantly, he was given “power that whatsoever ye shall seal on the earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Helaman 10:7). In addition to the revelation received, this Nephi was also given other powers of God, that became known to him only after he was ponding in his heart.
One final scriptural example of the power of pondering. This example comes through the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon. While Joseph and Sydney were “doing the work of translation” of the Bible in the fifth chapter, twenty-ninth verse of John which speaks of the resurrection of the dead, they marveled (Doctrine & Covenants 76:15-18). And then it reads, “while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about. And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fullness” (Doctrine & Covenants 76:19, 20). They were subsequently shown the resurrection of the just and unjust, the redeeming power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the plight of Lucifer and those who follow him, and then the glory of the celestial, terrestrial and telestial kingdoms and those who would attain each (Doctrine & Covenants 76). All was revealed because they pondered or meditated over scripture.
My dear brothers and sisters, while these are examples of prophets, please know that the same power of revelation is available to you. You truly can draw upon the powers of heaven. The examples that I shared are certainly instances of extraordinary heavenly visions and communications with heaven-sent messengers. I bear witness that when needed, God still can communicate in such a miraculous way. However, most often that communication, that power of revelation, comes as described in the Doctrine and Covenants where it reads, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, . . .behold, this is the spirit of revelation” (Doctrine & Covenants 8:2, 3). Elder Neal A. Maxwell, commenting on both the means and availability of revelation to us said, “a few of you may still feel that revelation consists only of supernal events like the First Vision, or that revelation is out of your reach, or that it is something so extraordinary that a seemingly ordinary person is not entitled thereto. But you are entitled” (Neal A Maxwell, “Revelation,” Worldwide Leadership Training, Jan. 2003, 5.).
With all of the important life decisions that are ahead of you, surely you feel the need for personal revelation. You may not be given a vision of the eternities, but you will have the Holy Ghost speak “peace to your mind” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:23), or “cause that your bosom shall burn within you” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8). As you learn to ponder over sacred things you will have your heart and mind open to greater truths of the gospel. It will take practice and patience, but I can bear personal witness that pondering will lead to revelation. This I know to be true for as I have sat in my room and pondered on many occasions, the Spirit has spoken peace to my soul and opened the eyes of my understanding. These personal revelations have been a blessing to me personally, to my family, and to those whom I have had stewardship over.
After Jesus taught the Nephites gathered at the temple in Bountiful, he admonished them to, “go ye unto your homes and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask the Father, in my name, that ye may understand” (3 Nephi 17:3). And, then, Moroni in his final words to us pleads, “behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, …ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men…and ponder it in your hearts” (Moroni 10:3). The admonition to ponder was given to all who gathered at the temple and to all who read the Book of Mormon. The invitation is to all men, women, and even children. Anyone who has come to know, even in the smallest degree, that the Book of Mormon is true, has received revelation. Personal revelation is the common ingredient found in every testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
I bear you my witness that the Church is led by the power of revelation today. It is upon this rock that the Church is built. I bear you my witness that there are prophets, seers and revelators on earth today and that President Thomas S. Monson is chief among them. He is the senior apostle on the earth and is authorized to hold and exercise all the keys of the priesthood. I bear witness that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God. I know that after reading and reflecting on scripture he was prompted to enter a grove of trees that later we would call “sacred” and that there he saw God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. I know that this was the first of many revelations received by him. I know the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. The Holy Spirit has revealed this to me as I have read and pondered over its words. And finally, I bear you my witness that Jesus Christ lives. He is our Savior and Redeemer. This I know. This, too, has been revealed to me by the power of the Holy Ghost. My witness can be your witness through the power of revelation that will come to you when you ponder over sacred things. Of these things I testify, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.