Where It Listeth

How much do you have to know before you’re willing to act?

We all have to be careful. We’ve all had experiences where we jumped into something that we should have thought through more carefully or where a little more research before deciding would have been wise.

But we can err on the other side as well, missing opportunities because we’re just not ready to commit yet, because we’re not 100% sure that it’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately, missed opportunities are harder to detect than failed efforts, so there is a natural bias toward inaction. If you don’t do anything, you won’t do something foolish. If you don’t say anything, you won’t say something stupid.

Nicodemus was extremely cautious. Why wouldn’t he be? He was “a ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1). He was in the public eye. If he made a misstep, people would notice, and he would hear about it. No wonder he “came to Jesus by night” (John 3:2). No wonder he responded to Jesus’ decisive declaration that we must be born again with cautious questions.

“How can a man be born when he is old?” he asked. “Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:3). These are not the questions of a person who is ready to commit. These are the questions of a person waiting on the sidelines, unwilling to jump into the game without more information. So Jesus’ somewhat cryptic characterization of people who have been spiritually reborn could also be interpreted as a gentle rebuke:

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

John 3:8

You don’t have to know everything, in other words. People who are led by the Spirit don’t have comprehensive answers to all the questions they’re asking. They are willing to take a leap of faith. They are willing to follow promptings to do good without knowing the full context.

When Nephi returned to the city of Jerusalem after two failed attempts to obtain the brass plates, he “was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do” (1 Nephi 4:6). When an angel later asked him a question he could not answer, he replied, “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17). He didn’t have to know everything before he was willing to do something. He embraced uncertainty, and moved forward anyway.

The engineer in me wants all of the pieces of a design to fit together nicely, like a well-oiled machine. I’m often inclined to defer a decision until I have more information, and that can be appropriate. But it can also be damaging and limiting. If you wait until you know everything, you won’t do anything.

Today, I will follow promptings from the Spirit. I will ask questions and strive to understand the implications of the things I do, but I won’t hold back from action just because I don’t know everything. I will trust God to lead me in the right way in spite of my own limited knowledge.

4 thoughts on “Where It Listeth

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  1. When I was stake primary president, I felt Heavenly Father’s love for the children and for me. I was given little guidance and so appealed for guidance from my Heavenly Father. I received three promptings each morning. They were my tasks for that day. It was truly one of the most wonderful callings I have ever had — although I confess I have had many that have been great blessings. I wondered why I didn’t have as much guidance after that. I have tried recently to have a closeness that resembles that time. It is not the same but I have more closeness with the Spirit and more guidance as I try to gain a deeper relationship with my Heavenly Father. I am so grateful for that the help and for the love that I feel. Thank you for this post.




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