27 Ye have not applied your hearts to understanding; therefore, ye have not been wise….
After prophesying that the people of King Noah would be punished for their sins, Abinadi was arrested and brought before Noah’s priests for questioning. During the interrogation, one of the priests quoted a passage from Isaiah—Isaiah 52:7-10—and asked Abinadi to explain it to them. This passage became the basis for a sermon which Abinadi then preached to them, comprising the next four chapters. But Abinadi’s first response to the question was, “Are you priests, and pretend to teach this people, and to understand the spirit of prophesying, and yet desire to know of me what these things mean?” (Mosiah 12:25) He then explained to them why they found this passage to be complex and difficult to explain: “Ye have not applied your hearts to understanding; therefore, ye have not been wise.”
What role do our hearts play in helping us understand spiritual things? Here are a few ideas:
- We can inhibit spiritual learning by hardening our hearts. The second we decide that we can’t learn something, that no satisfactory answer exists, or that we don’t really want to know the answer, we have obstructed our own progress in that area. (See Alma 12:9-11.)
- Desire is a prerequisite for revelation. Before showing a vision to Nephi, the Spirit asked him, “What desirest thou?” (1 Nephi 11:2) Likewise, Abraham attested that he gained great spiritual knowledge because he desired it deeply (Abraham 1:2).
- Some spiritual knowledge only comes if we are willing to use it in our lives. Moroni said that God would tell us individually if the Book of Mormon is true, but that we would need to ask Him “with real intent” (Moroni 10:4). President Russell M. Nelson explained, “‘Real intent” means that one really intends to follow the divine direction given” (“Ask, Seek, Knock,” General Conference, October 2009).
- True understanding or wisdom is more than being able to recall facts. It is mastering principles which can be applied in real-life situations. This type of learning requires more than memorization and logic. It requires openness and engagement. The learner must be prepared to change. The learner must be willing to place himself or herself in the center of the experience, not to be merely a detached observer. This is consistent with the original meaning of “understand” from Old English: to “stand among” or “stand in the midst of” (Online Eytmology Dictionary). You have to be willing to make yourself part of the process.
Today, I will follow Abinadi’s counsel and apply my heart to understanding. I will avoid hardening my heart. I will cultivate a desire to learn. And I will place myself in the middle of the process, remembering that true understanding is experienced, not just observed.