Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Heart of Flesh

A-5, third from left.
One of my son's invited me down to Provo today as he was to speak in church and participate in a musical fireside this evening. The trumpet choir of the evening portion is above.

The remainder of this post will be the transcript that my son prepared to give his talk:

New Year’s is often associated with goal setting and resolutions. In Japan, people will choose a kanji, or Chinese character, as their theme for the year. In my Japanese class last January, my sensei asked us each what character we had chosen, and I responded that I chose “kokoro(心) which translates best to English as the heart. This has become the theme of my scripture study throughout this year.

I’ve always found the heart to be a difficult matter to comprehend, being very analytical and a logic based thinker. I pray that the Spirit will be able to convey my feelings and thoughts to you and whatever inspirations from God that you need in your life right now.


Kokoro (心) is not the word used for your physical, beating heart. The character for kokoro (心) combined with the character zou (臓) meaning bowels forms the word shinzou (心臓), which is your literal heart. There are only 4 occurrences in the Book of Mormon where a shinzou (心臓), a physical heart is spoken of, and they primarily deal with Lamanite kings being stabbed in the heart.

This is not the heart of which I wish to speak about today, but the heart that is the very fiber of our being. Elder Marvin J. Ashton spoke of the heart in this manner, “...the heart is a synonym for one’s entire makeup. We often use phrases about the heart to describe the total person. Thus, we describe people as being “big-hearted” or “goodhearted” or having a “heart of gold.” Or we speak of people with faint hearts, wise hearts, pure hearts, willing hearts, deceitful hearts, conniving hearts, courageous hearts, cold hearts, hearts of stone, or selfish hearts. The measure of our hearts is the measure of our total performance.” [1] Or in the words of the Proverb, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so he is.” [2]


The Lord expressed the importance of our hearts in the process of choosing king David. “The Lord [said] unto Samuel [the prophet], Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature... for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” [3] This principle is again illustrated in the story of The Little Prince, when the wise fox imparts wisdom stating, “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” [4] And in a vision of the celestial kingdom received by Joseph Smith, we learn that “the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” [5]

So what would God say about the current condition of your heart? What kind of heart do you desire to have?


The way one obtains a new or different heart is through experiencing a change of heart. This is an essential step in repentance and is the sixth step in the 12 Step Addiction Recovery Program, which states that the key principle is to “become entirely ready to have God remove all your character weaknesses.” [6]

President Benson describes the process of a change of heart in this way: “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.” [7]

I learned the hard way that you can’t change others, nor should you expect others to change or fix you. I spent the first winter of my mission in the Japanese Alps, near where the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics were held. The language barrier between my Japanese companion and I along with the personal struggles he was facing coupled with the cold, snowy winter and 4 months of minimal progress in the work, I became very depressed. With transfer calls came a new companion, which I thought would provide the change I desperately sought, but I only sunk deeper into the darkness.
During that time, Elder Holland gave a General Conference address on mental illness and shared that “above all, never lose faith in your Father in Heaven, who loves you more than you can comprehend... Never, ever doubt that, and never harden your heart.” [8]
Despite being from Utah, I don’t like snow, and so one day after it snowed 3 feet, I finally concluded that I needed to take action. I turned to the Adjusting to Missionary Life booklet, which contains many suggestions on how to combat stress and negative feelings. From that, I decided to write down 5 things each day that I was grateful for. After 3 weeks, I began to feel a change. The next transfer call day came, and as I was praying for a phone call, I changed my prayer. Instead of praying for an escape, I found myself submitting to God’s will. If I was meant to stay and suffer for another transfer, so be it. Shortly after submission, my trainer, who was an AP at the time called and informed me that I was transferring to Inuyama, a place which has become near and dear to my heart.

Others can’t change your heart. It is uniquely your own, but the kind of heart we have is directly affected by how we exercise our agency. Your actions, whether they soften or harden your heart will determine to whom influence over your heart is given.


So what is the texture of your heart? The word “heart” appears over 450 times in the Book of Mormon. 72 of those occurrences deal with hard-heartedness, and nearly 20 of those are in reference to Laman and Lemuel. What is a hard heart? A hard heart does not seek change, it seeks to justify itself. It is unfeeling, indifferent, angry, contentious, violent. It does not care for others, it is the epitome of pride. A hardened heart is under the influence of Satan.

What causes a heart to harden? Nephi and his older brothers both saw an angel, both broke their bows in the wilderness and suffered, both crossed the treacherous ocean on a ship they built, yet their hearts were very different. The book, The Peace Giver provides an explanation as to why that is. “Being mistreated is the most important condition of mortality, for eternity itself depends on how we view those who mistreat us.” [9]

In my favorite scripture about the heart, the prophet Ezekiel is told how to replace your hard heart with a soft one. The Lord said, “A new heart … will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and give you an heart of flesh.” [10] (Ezekiel 36:26) The choices we make to bring Christ into our lives will allow Him to soften and change our hearts.

Elder Koelliker of the Seventy shared that, "The feeling of love from our Heavenly Father is like a gravitational pull from heaven. As we... exercise our agency to seek Him, we open our hearts to a celestial force which draws us toward Him." [11] It is Christ who soften and changes our hearts as we choose to come, follow Him.


So where is your heart? Christ wisely taught, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” [12] I have found in the two years I have been home from my mission that my time and the energy of my soul have been spent in various efforts. The necessities of school and work, the fun of band and friends, and the excess of Netflix and Facebook. But each church meeting I attended, every night that I read my scriptures, each morning that I got up to pray has drawn me closer to God and were absolutely worth the time and effort they cost.


Alma Jr presents the following questions in his introspective chapter of Alma 5:

“And now, I ask of you my [brothers and sisters] of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received His image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?

If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” [13]

If you do, keep on keepin on. If you don’t, hold tightly to these words of Elder Holland:

“ [Through the] Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can escape the consequences of both sin and stupidity—our own or that of others—in whatever form they may come to us in the course of daily living. If we give our heart to God, if we love the Lord Jesus Christ, if we do the best we can to live the gospel, then tomorrow—and every other day—is ultimately going to be magnificent, even if we don’t always recognize it as such. Why? Because our Heavenly Father wants it to be! He wants to bless us. A rewarding, abundant, and eternal life is the very object of His merciful plan for His children! It is a plan predicated on the truth “that all things work together for good to them that love God.”[14] So keep loving. Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever. … Brothers and sisters, may a loving Father in Heaven bless us tomorrow to remember how we felt today.” [15]

I add my testimony to Elder Holland’s, that if we are patient and diligent, God will change our hearts and we will succeed. I have experienced this from time to time and I pray that I will continue to do so. President Monson is our true and living prophet today, the Book of Mormon is the word of God which was translated and brought forth through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. He loves us and atoned for us that we through Him may have our hardened hearts removed and become like Him. I testify of these things in His name, Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Marvin J. Ashton, “The Measure of Our Hearts” October 1988
[2] Proverbs 23:7
[3] 1 Samuel 16:7
[4] Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince, trans. Richard Howard (2000), 63.
[5] D&C 137:9
[6] Addiction Recovery Program: A Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing, (2005), 35.
[7] Ezra Taft Benson, “Born of God”, October 1985
[8] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Like a Broken Vessel”, October 2013
[9] James L. Ferrell, The Peace Giver, (2004), 33.
[10] Ezekiel 36:26
[11] Paul E. Koelliker, “He Truly Loves Us”, April 2012
[12] Matthew 6:21
[13] Alma 5:14, 26
[14] Romans 8:28
[15] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You”, April 2016

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