Ears to Hear
Progressively over the last few years I have lost more and more of my hearing. I wasn’t surprised when this happened because my father and two grandmothers also lost much of their hearing in later years. It’s another evidence of aging, like bifocals, and I feel blessed to be alive in an era when I can use two little gadgets that you can’t even see, rather than a huge ear trumpet, in order to hear. Other changes have marked this transition for me. I sit closer to the pulpit in sacrament meeting and closer to the teacher in Sunday School. I miss important dialogue in movies. I miss pieces of conversations. I feel I have to limit the number of times I say “excuse me,” “pardon me” or “what” so I don’t frustrate family members, friends, or colleagues.
While my loss of hearing is sometimes embarrassing and the cause of a few misunderstandings, I have learned that the consequences are not nearly as eternal as the spiritual deafness about which we have been warned in the scriptures and by modern prophets. Our spiritual health and progression toward exaltation depend on two important things: First, having ears to hear. Second, and closely related to the first, learning to hear counsel.
Ezekiel (12:2) warned that the rebellious have ears to hear but will not hear. Jesus explained the great mission of John the Baptist as an Elias, the one who would herald the coming of the Messiah who would answer all the ends of the law and the prophets, and then said, (Matthew 11:15) “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” The Lord taught the early Saints, (DC 29:7) “And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect: for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts.”
I would like to discuss four ways that “having ears to hear and learning to hear counsel” will help us keep our sacred covenants and continue in our eternal progression. These are:
1. Having ears to hear and learning to hear counsel are essential to being healed by the Savior from our sins, transgressions, and weaknesses.
2. Having ears to hear and learning to hear counsel are necessary to being able to know true doctrine.
3. Having ears to hear and learning to hear counsel are a prerequisite for receiving personal revelation.
4. Having ears to hear and learning to hear counsel are the only means of aligning our efforts with the Lord’s plans for us and for building His kingdom.
Let’s talk first about being healed by the Savior. Jesus compared those who rejected him and those who followed him and became his true disciples in this way, “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their hearts, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears for they hear.” (Matthew 13:15-16)
To be truly healed, we must acknowledge or admit that the course we are pursuing is not in harmony with the Lord’s will. Unfortunately too many of us can sometimes be like Laman and Lemuel, who, when the Lord called them to repentance through their brother Nephi, became surly and antagonistic, complaining that the words were too hard, too sharp and too hard to understand. I think in modern terms Laman and Lemuel would have said that Nephi, at best, had “offended them” and at worst, had “disrespected them.” The pride of Laman and Lemuel made their ears dull of hearing. They started a pattern that would be echoed and re-echoed throughout the Book of Mormon and has certainly reappeared, embellished and magnified, in the latter days. As Helaman wrote, “…how quick [are the Children of men] to be lifted up in pride: yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom’s paths; behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.” (Helaman 12:5-6).
To be truly healed, one must not only stop doing the wrong thing, but also make every effort to right the wrong as far as possible. May I suggest that one isn’t interested in righting a wrong when they begin with a small word with huge implications, “if.” How often have we heard someone who has cheated, lied, spoken evil of someone else, or been unfaithful say, “If I have hurt anyone I am sorry but that is behind me now and I am ready to move on.” Such an attitude puts the problem not on the actor and his or her behavior, but on those who discover the action or have been hurt by it. “If” is a statement that reflects no remorse and no intent to restore what has been lost.
The Lord said in section 56 of the Doctrine and Covenants (vs. 14), “Behold, thus saith the Lord unto my people – you have many things to do and to repent of; for behold, your sins have come up unto me, and are not pardoned, because you seek to counsel in your own ways.” In other words, when we seek to cover our sins, to deafen our ears and harden our hearts, and avoid listening to the Lord’s direction for us, we push ourselves away from forgiveness, and deny ourselves the great miracle of the atonement. Through the atonement we can put off the natural man, we can grow, and our weaknesses can be made strong. Hearing the Lord’s counsel helps us make course corrections, assists us in turning away from error, and puts us in a position to be forgiven.
To be truly healed one must also then endure and persist in doing good. This valiant effort to continue to do good, having no more the disposition to do evil, is the hallmark of those who have relied on the merits of the Savior and who have come humbly to him with open ears to hear his counsel.
Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of this principle is found when the Children of Israel were nearing the Promised Land. Remember, these people had been “wandering in the wilderness” for nearly forty years in order to get Egypt out of their hearts and loyalty to the Lord into their hearts. As they were passing on the eastern borders of what we know as the Dead Sea, the terrain was arid, rocky, desolate, and difficult to traverse. The people became miserable and discouraged. Instead of turning toward God, they turned away from him and complained against God and his prophet, Moses (Numbers 21:4-9) As a punishment the Lord sent fiery serpents among them, fiery and very poisonous, for those bitten by a serpent became very ill and many died.
As is often the pattern, in their distress the people turned to Moses and confessed that they had sinned. They begged Moses to ask the Lord to remove the serpents. The Lord told Moses to make a brass serpent and put it on a pole in the middle of the encampment. If anyone was bitten they should look on the brass serpent and they would live. Alma later taught that the brass serpent was a type of Christ, that many of the Children of Israel did look upon the brass serpent and did live. But, he also explained, “…few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them. O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish?” (Alma 33:19-21)
I am a nurse by profession. I have seen many people try every possible therapy, even scientifically questionable ones, be willing to spend countless dollars and undergo the most miserable treatments in hopes of being healed. It is hard for me to fathom someone so hard hearted (or deaf of hearing) that he or she wouldn’t try something as simple as looking at a brass serpent on a pole if they could possibly be healed. Yet, those who do not have ears to hear are often unable to turn their ears or their eyes to the Savior of the World, who suffered and bled for them in the Garden to give them the opportunity to be healed.
We also need ears to hear in order to know true doctrine. One of Satan’s strategies in the last days is to confuse people about what is true. Without knowledge of the truth men and women are driven in the wind and tossed. We can’t obey the truth if we don’t know it. And knowing the truth frees us from the chains of doubt, despair, confusion, and error. With our ears open to hear counsel and our hearts open to receive counsel, we can distinguish between our own desires and the Lord’s ways. We can recognize the difference between truth and how Satan can distort truth to lead us away from saving principles and ordinances. By knowing true doctrine we can anchor ourselves firmly in the hope offered in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We especially need to know true doctrine about the atonement and the process we go through to receive mercy, redeeming grace, and forgiveness. I believe one of the reasons for the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, in a time when “creeds were an abomination in the Lord’s sight” and the doctrines being taught were “the commandments of men, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof” (Joseph Smith History 1:19), is so that we might know true doctrine, the true doctrine necessary for salvation and exaltation. We know that Joseph Smith said (intro to the Book of Mormon) that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” The Lord, himself, said the Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (DC 20:8) Elder Russell M. Nelson has explained that the reason the Book of Mormon has the fullness of the gospel is that it tells us more about the doctrine of the Savior’s mission and atonement than any other book of scripture. Some may have knowledge of more facts about ancient history, symbolism, or the political setting of each event in scripture but those who have a testimony and knowledge of the atonement will be able to unlock miracles in their lives.
Third, the prerequisite for receiving or hearing counsel from the Lord, whether it be given to us through our personal study of the scriptures, our own personal fasting and prayer, temple attendance, or through wise Church leaders, is the humility necessary to listen to the Holy Ghost and lean on the Lord and not “on the arm of flesh.” The Holy Ghost can teach us when we are humble and want to be teachable. The more we hunger and thirst after righteousness, the more we can be filled with the Holy Ghost (3 Ne 12:6). Those who desire his companionship and live so as to receive it in meekness can feast on the words of Christ and be given all things they should do (2 Ne 32:3).
Having ears to hear and being willing to hear counsel is also the one way we can align our efforts with what the Lord would have done to build his kingdom and do his work. A number of years ago Elder Charles Didier was an area president in the Southwestern United States. A reporter from a small LDS-oriented newspaper in Arizona asked him what he worried about the most for the members in Arizona. His reply was that he was concerned that they would manage their church callings the same way they managed their professions or their careers and they would never pay the price of the humility necessary to learn what God wanted them to do in their callings.
I have learned that most Latter-day Saints really do want to “build up the Kingdom with earnest endeavor.” (Hymns #309) We have made sacred promises to do so. I have also learned that some of us want to build up the Kingdom in our own way, not necessarily in His way. Sometimes we can be so sure that what we want to do is best for the Church that we are unwilling to hear counsel otherwise. I am often reminded of the scene in the move, The Sound of Music, when Captain Von Trapp determinedly tells Uncle Max Detweiler that his children will not be performing in the music festival in Salzburg. Max tries to convince Captain Von Trapp that having the children sing would be good for Austria. When the Captain rolls his eyes, Max admits that it wouldn’t do him any harm either. Sometimes we need to give ourselves the “Uncle Max” test and find out if our own pride or our own rewards are foremost in our hearts when we say we are thinking about what is best for the Church.
When the Church was newly formed some who had been baptized in other denominations did not think they needed to be baptized again in order to “join” the Church. They expressed their opinions strongly to the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Lord however, revealed to Joseph what was right, and summarized with this statement, “(DC 22:4) “Wherefore, enter ye in at the gate, as I have commanded, and seek not to counsel your God.”
We have a powerful example of someone who had ears to hear and could also hear counsel in the Prophet Joseph Smith. We know from Joseph’s own history that after he reported the events of the first vision to others he was ridiculed and tormented. If ever there was a young man who wanted the safety and security of good friends to stand by him, that young man was Joseph Smith. And he eventually found such a friend in Martin Harris. Martin Harris was much older and was a respected business man in the community of Palmyra. To have such a friend and benefactor was truly a blessing to the young prophet.
And so, when Martin Harris requested permission to take the first 116 pages of the translation of the plates home so that his wife could see them (and stop nagging him about his support of Joseph Smith), Joseph took the request to the Lord. The answer was no. Yet, Martin Harris continued to ask the prophet if he could take the manuscript of the translation. Finally, on the third time, the Lord said, “yes” and Martin departed from Harmony, Pennsylvania with the 116 pages to show his wife in Palmyra, New York. Martin was given strict instructions about the precious document. It was the “only one” in existence. No scribe had made a copy.
Tragic family circumstances kept Joseph Smith from thinking about Martin Harris and the manuscript for a while. But, as the days went by, he eventually became worried, so worried that he traveled to Palmyra to retrieve the 116 pages. When finally confronted with the fact that Martin Harris no longer had the manuscript Joseph felt that he had lost his soul. He knew the parameters the Lord had set. He also knew that he had wearied the Lord with repeated requests. I can’t imagine how devastated Joseph must have been.
Yet, because Joseph had ears to hear and was willing to hear counsel after this terrible error (an error anticipated by the great prophet Mormon who had ears to hear when the Lord told him to include the small plates of Nephi with his abridgement for a wise purpose (verse 7) he knew not). Joseph spent agonizing days in repentance. The gift of translation was taken from him for a time. To top it all off, the Lord’s counsel to him was written in a revelation published in the Doctrine and Covenants to be read by generations of members of the Church who would know of his mistake.
Listen to the Lord speaking to Joseph Smith, a young man who felt he needed a powerful friend in Martin Harris. “The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught….Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men; For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him. Behold, you have been entrusted with these things, but how strict were your commandments; and remember also the promises which were made to you if you did not transgress them, And behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men. For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words – Yet you should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble. Behold, thou art Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou art not aware, thou wilt fall. But remember, God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to do the work.” (DC 3:1-6)
Joseph heard the Lord’s counsel, he had ears to hear, and became the great prophet of the restoration who did “more save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.” (DC 135:3)
We have another wonderful, more modern example of someone who had ears to hear and who could hear counsel. We all know the story of President Hinckley’s discouragement on his mission; that he wrote to his father saying perhaps he should come home because he wasn’t accomplishing anything in the mission field. We know his father wrote him a short note that told him to forget himself and go to work. President Hinckley heard his father’s counsel and went to work. Someone without ears to hear may have thought to himself, “What does my father back in Utah know about my difficulties here in England? Doesn’t he know I am already working as hard as I can?” No, President Hinckley had a humble heart, heard the counsel, and did his very best to follow it. And, all of us who are members of the Church have benefitted from his ability to hear the wise counsel of his earthly father.
On the other hand we have numerous examples of those who don’t have ears to hear and who cannot hear counsel. One of the most dramatically spiritually deaf in Church history was Thomas B. Marsh, a man of great intellect and ability. Soon after he was baptized in 1830 a revelation was given to him through Joseph Smith. In this revelation the Lord counseled Brother Marsh to “pray always, lest you enter into temptation and lose your reward. Be faithful unto the end, and lo, I am with you. These words are not of man nor of men, but of me, even Jesus Christ, your Redeemer…” (DC 31:12-13) For a time Brother Marsh had ears to hear and heeded the counsel the Lord had given him. He became the President of the Quorum of the Twelve. But, in taking his wife’s side in an argument over cream skimmings, Brother Marsh became hostile to the leadership of the Church who had decided against his wife in the clash between two sisters over the cream. His support of his wife carried him to criticism and then to apostasy and excommunication. He, indeed, had lost his reward. Brigham Young became the President of the Council of the Twelve and led the Church from Nauvoo to the West after Joseph Smith was martyred. Brother Marsh had weathered Kirtland and Jackson County but when something as serious and as far reaching as milk skimmings came along, he could no longer hear the counsel given to him not by man, but by the Savior.
Nineteen years later Brother Marsh made his way to Salt Lake City to ask Brigham Young to forgive him and permit him to be rebaptized. He wrote to Heber C. Kimball saying, “I began to awake to a sense of my situation;…I know that I have sinned against heaven….[I learned] the Lord could get along very well without me and He has lost nothing by my falling out of the ranks; But O what have I lost?! Riches, greater riches than all this world or many planets like this could afford.” (quoted by James E. Faust in the Ensign, May 1996, 7).
Not only are there significant consequences for failing to have ears to hear, there are also magnificent blessings for those who do hear counsel. Consider these few among many.
“Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good.” Alma 37:37
“And inasmuch as they follow the counsel which they receive, they shall have power after many days to accomplish all things pertaining to Zion.” DC 105:37
“My sheep hear my voice and I know them.” John 10:27
“Behold I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20
How do we increase our capacity to have ears to hear and to obtain the blessings of hearing counsel? I used to be the Primary pianist, my favorite church assignment. There were some Sundays when the children arrived at Primary with more wiggles, squeals, shouts, and giggles than the adults could manage. The chatter and noise would sometimes over power the piano. On those occasions, the Primary President would patiently stand in front of the children and tug gently on her ear, saying, “children, it is time to put on your ears. Can everyone put on their ears?” And like magic, the children would quiet down and get ready to listen. Like these Primary children, we need to simply “put on our ears.” We need to get ready to hear. We need to tune out distractions and turn our minds to listening.
Developing ears to hear, once we have tuned in, is much like the process of developing faith. After all, having faith in the omnipotence, omniscience, and complete love of God motivates us to desire and trust his counsel. Alma (chapter 33) describes seven factors in this process. First, we must humble ourselves through repentance so that we can be receptive to counsel (verses 15-16). Second, we must awake and arouse our faculties to experiment upon the word of counsel given (verse 27). Third, we need to exercise a particle of faith to act on the counsel (verse 27). Fourth, we continue to nurture what we have been told despite a tendency to doubt or be discouraged (verse 28). Fifth, we recognize the confirmation that what we have heard is good and right and true (verse 31). Sixth, we nourish what we have heard with care, and continue to act on it (verse 37). And Seventh, we come to know and appreciate the counsel as sweet and feast upon it (verse 42).
I did the research for my dissertation in Nigeria. When I arrived in Nigeria I could tell that almost everyone around me was speaking English, but I couldn’t understand all that was being said. I had to concentrate, I had to practice by listening to many people, and I had to compare and contrast accents. Sure enough, over time not only could I understand all that was being said, I enjoyed it and when I came home I longed to hear those unique expressions and accents.
Finally, in order to really keep our ears open to hear counsel we must be willing to recognize and conquer our own episodes of pride and be able to learn from them. We will make mistakes, but we can learn, we can be teachable, and we can commit to listening better. Let me give you a personal example.
Three years ago I traveled to the Dominican Republic with a good friend to pick up her son from his mission. We planned to visit several of his missionary areas, meeting the people he knew and loved. I rented a car and bought several maps. But, I quickly realized that one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my adult life was driving a rental car in the Dominican Republic. It was a white knuckle experience. I am good at reading maps and the maps I had were accurate – unless road work was being done, or a new road had been added, or my route turned into a one-way street. My driving improved over the five days we were there but I was impressed to know that driving the long distance from the hotel to the airport in the dark at 4 am probably wasn’t a good idea, especially in the drenching rain storm that had descended during the night. I decided to hire a taxi to guide me to the airport.
I strategically placed the Spanish speaking missionary and his mother in the taxi with instructions to drive slowly and not to lose the “gringa” following behind. If it took longer to get to the airport, so be it. I would pay the extra charge. The plan was to drop off the missionary’s mother and the luggage. Then the taxi would lead me to the car rental return location, wait while I checked in the car and then return the missionary and me to the airport. I hasten to add that we had rented the car in town rather than at the airport because our flight had landed after the rental car sales desk had closed. I had absolutely no idea where the car rental agency was at the airport.
Everything worked as planned. The taxi driver drove carefully and I followed him with exactness. I did not deviate one bit. We arrived at the airport, unloaded the luggage and the missionary mother. I was so happy. We had made it. I followed the taxi out of the departure lanes and then, for some inexplicable reason, I was overcome with a fit of figurative deafness. I happened to see a sign “rental cars” with an arrow pointing off to the left. When the taxi driver ignored this sign and kept driving straight ahead, I thought, at that moment, “I surely know better than he does.” I decided to follow my own counsel instead of that of the local expert, an expert I had hired because he knew the area. Instead of following the taxi as I should have, I turned on to the road to the left.
I still cannot explain why I experienced that prideful, conceited, and stupid moment. I don’t know what made me think that suddenly I knew my way around and had no need to follow the experienced local person who knew the way. But, it happened. I just ignored him and went off on my own.
What a mess. I hadn’t gone in the correct direction at all. I was now totally lost. I tried to get back on the road the taxi had been on and was successful. But, I couldn’t find the taxi anywhere. I passed rental returns for every company except the one I needed. I didn’t know the roads and suddenly ended up back on the freeway headed to Santo Domingo. Large concrete barriers made it impossible for me to reverse direction. I couldn’t imagine how lost I would be once I arrived back in the city. I was praying those desperate foxhole prayers, begging the Lord for forgiveness for my pride and stupidity. He had mercy on me and I noticed a gas station that serviced both sides of the freeway. I was able to drive in and turn around. I asked the workers at the station in broken Spanish, ““ayuda mi por favor, donde esta Nacional” but they couldn’t help me. I ended up back at the airport and went back down the road the taxi had taken with the exact same result. At least this time I knew I could turn around at the gas station, which I did the second time (paying toll charges each time I must say).
I had now spent more than an hour driving around with no success. The sun was starting to come up and it wouldn’t be long before the plane was scheduled to leave. I was an emotional wreck. I doubled the intensity of my foxhole prayers. I promised the Lord I would never be so stupid again if he would just help me out this time. The third time around the airport I felt impressed to try a road I hadn’t tried before. I ended up in a rental car return, but not the one I needed. Still, the good workers there were willing to go with me to show me the way to the car rental agency I needed. Then they took me to the airport. I had been saved from my own idiocy.
Naturally the missionary and his mother were getting worried. The missionary and the taxi driver had also circled the airport numerous times looking for me without success. Finally the taxi driver felt he needed to get back to his real business and left them there on the curb with the luggage. But, I had the airline tickets so they couldn’t even try to check in. What a reunion we all had when I was finally dropped off by the kind Dominican workers. I was so relieved I couldn’t stop praising the many mercies of the Lord in rescuing me from my own prideful counsel.
I had an entire flight to meditate on the lessons I learned from that experience. One little glitch in your “hearing” can really get you off track. I thought about how foolish I was to have followed the taxi driver so carefully for so long and then suddenly believing I didn’t need guidance anymore, gone off on my own. I recognized that no matter what you learn, or what you think you know, you never want to put yourself in the position of thinking you know more than the Lord does and heeding your own counsel instead of his.
You all remember the story of young Samuel. While Samuel was asleep in his room, the Lord called him twice. Samuel thought it was Eli, the high priest, speaking to him and went to Eli asking what he wanted. Eli finally perceived that it was the Lord who was calling Samuel and gave him wise counsel. The third time the Lord called to Samuel, Samuel was prepared and answered, “Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.” (1 Samuel 1:4-10).
My prayer is that when the Lord seeks to speak and counsel us – through the scriptures, through our prayers, through parents, through others, through our leaders, through the Holy Spirit – that we will have our ears on and say as Samuel did, “Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.” In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.