What Does It Mean to Ponder?

Near the end of the first day of the Savior’s ministry on the American continent, He announced that it was time for Him to leave. He promised to return the following day, and He gave them the following guidance about how to spend their time that evening:

Go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow (3 Nephi 17:3).

In the last chapter of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Moroni makes a similar invitation to his readers:

I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down unto the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost (Moroni 10:3-4).

The message of both of these passages is consistent: Pondering, when combined with prayer, leads to understanding.

The first author in the Book of Mormon, Nephi, experienced an extraordinary vision as a result of pondering (1 Nephi 11:1).

One of his descendants, also named Nephi, received great power from God as he walked toward his house, “pondering in his heart” (Helaman 10:2-3).

Joseph Smith’s First Vision came as a result of pondering. At the age of fourteen, as he struggled with a difficult question, he came across a verse in the Bible: James 1:5. He said, “It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again” (Joseph Smith—History 1:12). Finally, he prayed, and received the answer he sought.

I love President Joseph F. Smith’s description of his pondering on October 3, 1918, which led to a significant revelation about missionary work in the spirit world. Here is his description of the process which led to this revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 132:1-11):

  1. He sat in his room pondering the scriptures, with a particular focus on the love of God as manifest in the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
  2. As he pondered, his mind “reverted” to the epistles of Peter in the New Testament.
  3. He opened the Bible and read 1 Peter 3 and 4. Two passages in particular caught his attention: 1 Peter 3:18–20 and 1 Peter 4:6.
  4. As he thought about those passages, and particularly about some questions they raised in his mind, “the eyes of [his] understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon [him].” He saw a vision in which his questions were answered.

I love the non-linear nature of President Smith’s description. This was not a study session following an organized plan, with an agenda. This was a learner, wondering about the gospel, willing to ask questions and to investigate gospel concepts deeply, following them wherever they might lead.

Today, I will take time to ponder the gospel. I will think deeply about the things I know to be true and about the questions I have. I will ask God to help me understand and will strive to open my mind to receive the truths He is willing to share with me.

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