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Hearing Him by Consecrating Our Thoughts

Kerry Muhlestein PhD
June 18, 2024 11:15 AM

"Level up in terms of how much time you make for the Lord, and you will find that you have also leveled up in your ability to hear Him. "
I am really pleased and honored to be with you this morning. I have always felt a connection to this place because my mother, who passed away a few weeks ago, studied at what was then the LDS Business College. In fact, just last week, at her funeral, my aunt told me that one of my favorite pictures of my mom was taken by the Business College because she had just been elected the Queen. I had never known that before, but it made me all the more excited to be with a student body that she felt such a part of. And I even wore my Ensign green tie, to be with you. I feel strongly about what you do here, and what God will make of you while you are here, and how it will prepare you to help build up His kingdom.

I have taken this assignment seriously enough that I went to the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York to pray about my topic. Now don’t read too much into that, I was there anyway, but I took quite a bit of time to pray in that place to ask what I should talk about with you here today.

I also know that last week you heard an excellent devotional about covenants. Perhaps today we can build on what you learned in that marvelous address. In my in-depth study of our covenant with God, the thing that has become most clear to me is that covenants are about establishing relationships, and our covenant with God is about creating a relationship in which we are lovingly bound to God and He is even more lovingly bound to us. I believe God was creating just such a relationship with Joseph Smith in that grove of trees. That was what He was doing when He introduced His Son, and told Joseph to hear Him. I think part of what President Nelson has wanted to have happen when he enthusiastically encouraged us to Hear Him [i] is for us to open communication channels which will deepen our covenant relationship with God and His Son.

Can you picture yourself in your own sacred grove? In this life you may not physically see God, but you can absolutely hear Him in your inner ear in a way that becomes your own continual sacred grove. So, picture yourself there. Can you see God reaching out to you, full of divinely earnest desire as he tenderly pleads with you, His child, to be in relationship with Him? Can you feel that He wants this so much that He sent His Only Begotten Son, who was quite literally dying to make that relationship possible? Can you feel how much it means to both of Them for you to respond when God asks you to hear Him? Perhaps you have had times when you felt this in the past, and it is time to feel so now, again. This is all possible because God sent His Son. We desperately need to hear Him. We have been taught that we won’t survive spiritually in these last days if we are not regularly hearing Him through the Holy Ghost. [ii]

I believe that you have great opportunities and great challenges ahead of you. I also believe that one of your current greatest needs during these amazing times is to have a deep and abiding relationship with God, and the continuing personal revelation that will result from that close relationship. You need it more than any generation before you, and they all desperately needed it. These two things cycle upon each other, with a closer relationship resulting in more revelation, and that increased amount of revelation deepening your relationship with God. God is always there, ready for relationship, and ready to speak with you. The question is how much do you want to hear Him?

As part of our promised covenantal blessings, you can have not only that close relationship with God, but also protection, a place to belong, and some form of prosperity. All of these involve hearing Him. None are possible without hearing Him, and hearing Him will greatly expand each of these covenantal promises. In short, you need to figure out how to let God prevail more in your lives so that you can hear Him better and more often. I want to talk with you about a specific thing that will prevent you from hearing Him, and its converse, which will help you hear Him.

In order to illustrate the principle, I want to expound upon, I will tell you a story from when I was an undergraduate at BYU. As I was finishing my second year of studying Biblical Hebrew, my Hebrew teacher, Donald Parry, asked if I would be interested in attending the first ever intensive Hebrew program at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. I told him I had always wanted to go there, but I just couldn’t afford it. He told me about some scholarships I could apply for, and after a while I was able to work it out, and I excitedly enrolled in that six-month long program.

Now I had assumed that since I had been invited by my Biblical Hebrew teacher, who knew I had taken a lot of Biblical Hebrew but no Modern Hebrew, that the Intensive Hebrew program was an intensive Biblical Hebrew program. I was shocked when, a few months before leaving for Jerusalem, I met some other students who were going on that program, and I learned that I was the only Biblical Hebrew student attending. Everyone else was a Modern Hebrew student. I investigated further and discovered that it was indeed a Modern Hebrew program, with one class on Biblical Hebrew.

There is an essential difference between these two paths of study. In Biblical Hebrew we learn lots of grammar, and all sorts of vocabulary and so on, that allows us to translate biblical stories. We hardly ever speak or hear the language, and we don’t ever learn modern vocabulary. As a result, when I arrived in Israel, I was capable of understanding any signs we found that were about how to smite giants with stones, but I could not ask anyone where the bathroom was, and if I could, I would not have understood their answer. I found myself at a real loss when we arrived. I didn’t understand anything anyone was saying. After a while I could make myself understood fairly well, by carefully choosing words and tenses that I knew from the Bible. But what I was hearing sounded like complete gibberish to me. I still vividly recall an oral exam administered at the end of our six months by the rabbi who taught, in Hebrew, our class on Judaism. When he asked the first several questions about what we had covered at the beginning of that class, I just had to say to him, “Oh, did we cover that?” I didn’t know. I hadn’t understood anything that we had talked about at the beginning.

The interesting thing was that I knew enough vocabulary and grammar that I should have been able to understand more than I did. The real problem was that my ears and brain were not used to hearing the language that I knew from reading. It just didn’t register as a language people spoke. The solution was for me to immerse myself in hearing Hebrew. After a while, someone suggested I listen to music in Hebrew so that my brain would come to understand that this was not just random sounds, but actual communication. That seemed to do the trick. I can still remember when one day I suddenly understood things that I hadn’t understood before. There was still a lot of work ahead of me, but my brain had decided that this was indeed a language, and I was now tuned in and able to hear.

That same kind of thing happens as God tries to speak with us. When we are tuned in with what God is trying to tell us, we will find that He is talking to us a lot more than we have thought. Isaiah teaches this principle in a profound way, but you may not have fully realized it because of some funny things that are happening in the Hebrew text which are not easily apparent in the English translation.

At the beginning of Isaiah 28, Isaiah repeatedly accuses Israel of being a drunkard. Then he gets down to some specific accusations. He says, “they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment” (Isaiah 28:7).

It is quite likely that some of what Isaiah was talking about was actual physical drunkenness. But Isaiah typically uses one image to talk about more than one thing. In this case I think he is talking about being literally drunk, and also being drunk spiritually by imbibing spiritual nonsense. I think that applies to the graphic image he creates in the next verse when he says that “all tables are full of vomit and filthiness” (Isaiah 28:8). Drunk priests probably did throw up on tables, but even worse is the fact that they were spewing spiritual vomit on everybody around them.

Now I want us to think about this unpleasant imagery for a moment, even if you don’t want to. Isaiah was intentionally painting an image we that wouldn’t like. He wants you to ask yourself what kinds of words are coming out of the mouths of the leaders you choose to listen to.

Hopefully you are listening to President Nelson, his counselors, the Quorum of the Twelve, and a host of other wonderful Church leaders. But you have probably also granted access to your brain to a lot of other leaders you’ve chosen for yourself. I would guess that you have granted political and philosophical speakers, podcasters, Hollywood script writers, Radio City singers, Tik Tok influencers, and a hundred other thought leaders’ access to your ears and minds. As much as you love our inspired Church leaders, in terms of hours of access to your ears, these other thought leaders, the priests and prophets of the world, probably have the larger portion of time allotted to them. Are they spewing spiritual vomit into your ears and brain? They are. That is an image to sit with for a moment. Are you cocking your head to the side in order to better let modern thought leaders spew vomit into your ears? I will tell you now, the answer is yes. The question for you is how, and what will you do about it.

Let’s continue to learn from Isaiah. He next asks some questions, part of which will be very familiar to you. He says, “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.” [In other words, He’s asking if you are spiritually mature enough to start to learn real doctrine or not?] He continues by saying “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:9–10).

We recognize that last phrase as a way of saying that we learn incrementally, and that as we learn one concept well, God is prepared to teach us the next concept which builds on the first. I believe that is absolutely correct. Yet there is something more going on here. Let me read it to you in Hebrew. It reads “tsav le-tsav, tsav le-tsav, qav le-qav, qav le-qav.” You can hear the almost childish babbling of the sounds and rhythm. To further this impression, you should know that none of those are complete words. We can’t be certain, but it seems like Isaiah is using partial words to create an effect. The word “tsav” is part of the word for command, or commandment, which has been translated as “precept.” The word “qav” is part of the word for measuring. Because in the ancient world they measured with a line they stretched out, the King James translators rendered this as “line.” In reality the phrase we translate as “precept upon precept,” and “line upon line” would read more like “cept, cept, cept, cept, ine, ine, ine, ine.” With this in mind, listen again, and you will hear how the phrase “tsav le-tsav, tsav le-tsav, qav le-qav, qav le-qav” sounds like babbling, or baby-talk.

To heighten that meaning, in the next verse Isaiah says, “for with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people” (Isaiah 28:11). Isaiah is saying that what God is teaching will sound like stammering, or a foreign tongue to the portion of Israel who have been listening to the false prophets and priests who have been spewing forth spiritual vomit. To them the word of God will sound like all the Hebrew I was hearing when I first arrived in Jerusalem. There were real words and teachings in what I was hearing, but I was not capable of recognizing it. It reminds me of when Paul taught “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The fact of the matter is that when we are too steeped in the spiritual vomit of the world, the things of God are either unsavory to us, or make no sense to us. This means we have come to prefer the vomit of the world over the meat of God’s word.

Isaiah seems to be teaching us that when we allow ourselves to be influenced by the ideas of the world – those ideas which are so continually pounded into us through our earbuds and our surround sound – they will prevail in our lives more than the things of God, and then the things of God will sound like nonsense and babbling to us. We won’t be able to receive His commands or teachings as He tries to measure them out to us. But when we listen to God, He will speak to us, we will hear Him, and He will teach us incrementally, precept by precept, line by line, whatever it is that we need to know. Another way of putting this is to say, as our Prophet has, “If most of the information you get comes from social or other media, your ability to hear the whisperings of the Spirit will be diminished. If you are not also seeking the Lord through daily prayer and gospel study, you leave yourself vulnerable to philosophies that may be intriguing but are not true. Even Saints who are otherwise faithful can be derailed by the steady beat of Babylon’s band.” [iii]

Isaiah emphasizes this concept further in the next chapter. He compares those who listen to the wrong thought leaders and their spiritual vomit to “when a hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite” (Isaiah 29:8).

You and I have recently heard another way of saying the exact same thing when President Nelson taught “while the world insists that power, possessions, popularity, and pleasures of the flesh bring happiness, they do not! They cannot! What they do produce is nothing but a hollow substitute for “the blessed and happy state of those [who] keep the commandments of God.” [iv]

Now I assume that none of us want to be full of spiritual vomit. None of us want to keep pursuing the wrong things only to find that we have no contentment, satisfaction, peace, or rest. None of us want to hear God’s words as if they were gibberish. We want to hear the true word of God and understand it and have our relationship with Him grow, along with all the resulting covenantal promises. But what are we to do to bring that about in our lives?

I believe the answer lies in our covenant. It became even more clear to me two days after I was in the Sacred Grove, when I was contemplating consecration while in Kirtland, Ohio. When the saints in Kirtland or Missouri were consecrating their goods, they recognized that everything they had come from God. With that in mind, they gave everything they had to God, and then received back what He wanted them to have as a sacred stewardship. They received what they were given with the understanding that it was given them to use to build up the Kingdom of God, and to support their families and friends in building the kingdom of God. What would that look like in our lives in regard to our thoughts?

It seems to me that it is time to give God all our thoughts. Think about all the ideas we imbibe from the false prophets of the world, and the way they affect our thinking patterns and conceptions. Are you willing to give up the way the world has taught you to think? The way it has taught you to think about the value of things, or the value of certain activities, or what is prestigious, or how you think about relationships, sexuality, marriage, gender, love, politics, acceptance, and everything else? Can you make your identity as a child of God, as a child of the covenant, and as a disciple of Jesus Christ [v] the primary way you think of yourself more than the identities the world is trying to assign to you? Can you consecrate yourself enough to place the way the world has taught you to think on the altar? Because when you do, God will give you back His way of thinking. He will speak to you, and you will understand, and you will think more like He thinks, and want what He wants. When you consecrate your thinking to God, He will give you in return a divine way of thinking that will be your stewardship to use to build up God’s kingdom. It will also bring you peace and rest.

I suggest that if you ever find yourself bristling, even the tiniest amount, about something the Lord’s representatives are teaching you, that you may have some consecrating work to do. Our bristling is usually because the things of God aren’t making sense to us, like Hebrew didn’t make sense to me when I first moved to Jerusalem. Our lack-of-understanding-induced-bristling is usually because we are too busy feasting on the world’s spiritual vomit to feast on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; D&C 98:11). Another sure sign this is happening is when you find yourself not wanting to pray or study scriptures. This is an alarm bell, sounding to let you know that your appetite for vomit is starting to outweigh your appetite for the pure waters of life. We all struggle with this in some way, and we all need to find a way to reverse course.

This will not be easy. We usually don’t realize that we have started to think the way the world has been telling us to think. It has happened incrementally, line upon line, as we have been careless about the thoughts and ideas we allow into our brain. We need to be aware that it is inevitable that when we listen to lyrics, even lyrics we are not conscious of, or repeated sessions of soaking in things from YouTube or TikTok, or anything else, when they keep pounding away a little at a time on our thoughts, they will eventually make a big dent. The constant dripping of water can carve a canyon out of granite. Your brain is far more permeable than that. We must be extremely careful about what we grant repeated access to our minds.

When the world’s ideas keep pounding imperceptibly away at us, we are bound to find times when our world-influenced way of thinking comes into conflict with things we hear from God’s representatives. When that happens, we usually think that we know better. It is ironic that we often only accept the teachings of prophets when they agree with the world. The reason that is so ironic is because the purpose of having prophets is to tell us the things of God, and we should expect that God thinks about things differently than we do. In fact, I would be disappointed if God thought the same way I do, yet I don’t like it when He contradicts my ideas. We should rejoice when God’s thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), but instead we usually are unhappy when prophets teach us things that are different from what the world has taught us. We want the kinds of prophets who agree with us. Unfortunately, those are the prophets of the world Isaiah warned us about – the ones who spew spiritual vomit on us. Yet still we resist those who bring us the waters of life instead of the vomit the world has forced us to become accustomed to.

But how can we change that? We can’t do it all at once, but we can start. President Nelson has taught us how. Remember when he said we would be in trouble if we got most of our information from social or other media? I think another way of saying that is that if you let the world influence how you think more than God does, you will then let the world prevail in all your life more than God, and then we will not be able to partake of the beautiful covenantal blessings God wants to give us. In that same talk where our beloved prophet warned us to be mindful of where our information comes from, he gave us the remedy. He passionately importuned us, saying “My brothers and sisters, I plead with you to make time for the Lord!” [vi] Can you consecrate enough to make less time for the world and instead make more time for God? Can you consecrate your ears and mind by carefully controlling what you give access to them? Can you take some of the time you give to worldly thought leaders and, instead, give it to God? Can you make that exchange a little bit today, and then do a little more next week and a little more the week after that? Can you allow Him just a bit more time to teach you precepts and measure it out to you line upon line? Do you think He might be doing it even now, at this moment? Will you act on that? Will you give him more time today and even more time next week?

I suggest you ask for direction and think of one worldly thing you can stop listening to, and one godly thing you can replace it with. Just choose one change to make this week, one thing God would have you do differently. To use the terminology of many of the games you play, I think it is time for us to level up. I am not asking you to do something overwhelming or herculean today. Do it a little at a time. Level up in terms of how much time you make for the Lord, and you will find that you have also leveled up in your ability to hear Him. Level up in sacrificing the way you think and instead accept how God asks you to think through His prophets, and you will find that you have leveled up in your relationship with God and the blessings that flow from keeping covenant with Him. Level up just a little bit, and then you will find you can level up more next week and the week thereafter.

When you consecrate in this way, you will find that you start thinking more and more celestially. [vii] As you think celestial, you will hear Him better. This godly focus and way of thinking will create within you a long-term, celestial view, that you won’t have to worry so much about the short- and near-term portions of your life. You will be able to trust that God will measure out to you the precepts and directions you need to know, when you need to know them. I do not know of anyone, not even the prophet Joseph Smith, whom God told how their whole life would play out at the beginning of their teenage or adult years. Typically, He measures out just the information and inspiration we need right when we need it. If we are not in a position to trust that more will come when we need it, we will inevitably feel fear about our futures. But when we are in the kind of relationship with Him that allows us to regularly hear Him, and when we treat our thoughts and desires as a divinely given stewardship, we can find peace by knowing that He will keep unfolding our lives according to His plan, and that this will bring us peace and rest.

True relationship and blessings and communion with God await us all! God is more anxious for this than we are, and He is pleading with us, through His prophet, to take the steps that will make it happen. In fact, through His prophet, He has been measuring out line by line, precept upon precept, things we can do to more fully come unto Him. The teachings are there if we can just learn to listen and understand. It is my prayer that we may all take just a few steps toward greater consecration of our thoughts, and thus hear Him and partake of the rest of God. I pray for that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[i] Russell M. Nelson, “Hear Him,” April 2020 General Conference.

[ii] Russell M. Nelson, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” April 2018 General Conference.

[iii] Russell M. Nelson, “Make Time for the Lord,” October, 2021 General Conference.

[iv] Russell M. Nelson, “Overcome the World and Find Rest,” October, 2022 General Conference.

[v] Russell M. Nelson, “Choices for Eternity,” worldwide devotional for young adults, May 15, 2022.

[vi] Russell M. Nelson, “Make Time for the Lord,” October, 2021 General Conference.

[vii] Russell M. Nelson, “Think Celestial,” October 2023 General Conference.

About the Speaker

Kerry Muhlestein

Kerry is a Professor of Ancient Scripture and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at BYU. He received his B.S. from BYU in Psychology with a Hebrew minor, an M.A. in Ancient Near Eastern Studies from BYU and his Ph.D. from UCLA in Egyptology with a secondary emphasis in Hebrew Language and Literature. In his final year he was named the UCLA Affiliates Graduate Student of the Year. Before coming to BYU he taught at BYU-Hawaii. He is the director of the BYU Egypt Excavation Project. He created and hosts the podcast The Scriptures Are Real. He was selected by the Princeton Review in 2012 as one of the best 300 professors in the nation. He was also a Visiting Fellow at the University of Oxford for the 2016-17 academic year. He has published 11 books, and over 60 peer reviewed articles. He and his wife, Julianne, are the parents of six children and one grandchild, and together they have lived in Jerusalem while Kerry has taught there on multiple occasions.
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