How Can I Avoid Being an “Unholy Temple?”

Four times in the Book of Mormon, we are taught a fundamental principle: God doesn’t dwell in unholy temples. If we make choices which make us unholy, we cannot have His Spirit with us.

Today, I examined these four passages looking for insights on how I can avoid cutting myself off from the Spirit of the Lord.

“Beware lest…ye list to obey the evil spirit.”

During his final sermon, King Benjamin warned his people that intentional and flagrant disobedience to God’s commandments renders us incapable of receiving guidance from the Holy Ghost:

After ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken,… ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom’s paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved (Mosiah 2:36).

He told them that the “evil spirit” will try to disrupt their communion with the Holy Spirit in two ways: by creating contention among them and by convincing them to intentionally disobey God’s commandments. If a person succumbs to these temptations, then “the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples” (Mosiah 2:37).

God stands ready to bless us, to prosper us, and to preserve us, but Satan attempts to prevent us from receiving those gifts through contention or intentional disobedience.

“Be humble, and be submissive and gentle.”

When Alma visited the city of Gideon, he found a group of people who were spiritually strong, who were striving to keep God’s commandments, or as Alma put it, “making his paths straight” (Alma 7:19).

Alma assured them that God “cannot walk in crooked paths;… neither hath he a shadow of turning from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong” (Alma 7:20). What was wrong yesterday is still wrong today, and it will continue to be wrong tomorrow. “And he doth not dwell in unholy temples; neither can filthiness or anything which is unclean be received into the kingdom of God” (Alma 7:21).

Therefore, Alma encouraged them to continue to “walk blameless” before God, keeping His commandments with diligence. But he also urged them to seek God’s help and to receive it willingly:

Be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated;… asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive (Alma 7:23). He also indicated that good works would naturally flow from divine attributes, such as faith, hope, and charity. Ultimately, Alma emphasized that the people would need God’s help to remain holy:

And may the Lord bless you, and keep your garments spotless….
And now, may the peace of God rest upon you…according to your faith and good works, from this time and forever (Alma 7:25, 27).

“Do not procrastinate the day of your repentance.”

Alma’s missionary companion Amulek later reiterated this principle to a group of people called the Zoramites. After teaching them that the Son of God would pay the price for their sins and that they were therefore empowered to repent, he urged them not to wait to participate this process:

As ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end…
For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you (Alma 34:33, 35).

How does Amulek know this? “Because the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell” (Alma 34:36).

When we have sinned and become unholy temples, we can restore our connection to God through repentance. But the time for repentance is now, not some future time which may never come.

“They had altered or trampled under their feet the laws.”

About 40 years later, the Nephites found themselves in a grave situation. Their enemies, the Lamanites, had taken over nearly all of their lands. Under the leadership of a commander named Moronihah, they managed to regain about half of those lands, but when they paused to survey their situation, they recognized how much they had lost.

  • “They had set at naught the commandments of God.”
  • “They had altered and trampled under their feet the laws of Mosiah.”
  • “Their laws had become corrupted.”

And their unwillingness to abide by divine law had other consequences as well. Their faith had become weak. “They began to disbelieve in the spirit of prophecy and in the spirit of revelation.” As a result, “the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them; yea, it had withdrawn from them because the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples” (Helaman 4:21-24).

The process began with a lack of respect for God’s law and an attempt to bend the rules or to create new laws which were more convenient for them.


I will remember that the Lord cannot dwell in unholy temples, and I will strive to live in a way that will enable Him to be with me. I will resist the temptations of the devil. I will seek for God’s help. I will repent quickly as needed. And I will avoid watering down God’s commandments or applying a lower standard to my behavior.

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What Is “Awful Woundedness?”

During Nephi’s vision on the mountain (described in 1 Nephi 11-14), he saw a future time of great confusion. Important spiritual truths (“plain and precious things”) would be lost, and as a result, many people would stumble. The angel who served as Nephi’s guide throughout the vision reassured him that God would intervene on behalf of these people. In the first edition of the Book of Mormon, the angel tells Nephi that God will not “suffer that the Gentiles shall forever remain in that state of awful woundedness which thou beholdest that they are in” (Book of Mormon, 1830, p. 31).

In the second edition, Joseph Smith changed the phrase “state of awful woundedness” to “awful state of blindness” (Book of Mormon, 1837, p. 34), which is the way the passage still reads today. (See 1 Nephi 13:32.)

I don’t know why the word “woundedness” was changed to “blindness.” The word “woundedness” doesn’t appear in most dictionaries. It doesn’t appear in the King James Version of the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants, or the Pearl of Great Price. The word has never been used in a General Conference talk. So, Joseph Smith may have simply been looking for a bona-fide word which conveys a similar meaning.

Regardless of the reason for the change, I find both descriptions meaningful. Because these people lacked understanding, they were blind. Because they were blind, they were stumbling. And because they stumbled, they were wounded. In both versions, their state was described as “awful,” and in both versions, Nephi had God’s assurance that he would not leave these people in this quandary.

The solution was simple: the people would become familiar with the spiritual truths which had previously been withheld. And they would receive those truths through the writings of Nephi’s descendants:

For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb (1 Nephi 13:35).

Today, I will be grateful for a Father in Heaven who loves me and is willing to help me overcome the challenges I face. When I am blind, He can help me see. When I am wounded, He can heal me. When I find myself in an “awful state,” I will remember that He has not abandoned me.

Note: this blog post was inspired by a lecture entitled “Awful Woundedness” given by Terryl Givens at Brigham Young University on 21 October 2019.

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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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What Can We Learn from the Women in the Book of Mormon?

Today, I have been pondering the lessons I have learned from some of the women in the Book of Mormon. Here are a few of those lessons:

“Now I know of a surety…”

Sariah trusted the revelations received by her husband, Lehi. She, along with the rest of the family, abandoned her home in Jerusalem to travel in the wilderness toward an unknown destination (1 Nephi 2:4-5).

The only time we see her faith falter is when her husband sends her sons back to Jerusalem to retrieve the brass plates from a powerful man named Laban. She understands the dangers in the journey and probably also knows something about Laban’s character. When her sons take longer than expected to return, Sariah makes the only complaint we hear from her in the entire journey: “Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 5:2).

These fears and concerns were well-founded, based on her own lived experience and her knowledge of the risks that the family had taken. I’m not surprised that she suffered a brief lapse of faith at this moment. But I am impressed with the way she handled it. When Lehi reassured her that God had promised to bring their sons safely back to them, the record says that she was comforted. Why? Because she was willing to believe, to look beyond the risks and the difficulties which faced them, and to trust that God would look out for her family.

When her sons return, she makes the following statement of testimony:

Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them (1 Nephi 5:8).

She and her husband together express their gratitude to God by offering “sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord” (1 Nephi 5:9).

I have learned the following lesson from Sariah:

Sometimes the difficulties and uncertainties of life cause us to doubt. We need to be willing to trust in God’s promises during those times, until the promised blessings come.

“I have had no witness save thy word…nevertheless I believe”

The wife of King Lamoni was distraught when her husband fell into a coma for two days and two nights after hearing the words of a missionary named Ammon. Some of her servants believed that he was dead and wanted to bury him, but she wasn’t so sure. At the urging of some of the other servants, she sent for Ammon and asked what she should do (Alma 19:1-5).

For Ammon, the king’s situation was familiar. His good friend Alma had experienced a similar unconscious state when he was converted to the gospel. After seeing the king, Ammon assured the queen, “He is not dead, but he sleepeth in God, and on the morrow he shall rise again” (Alma 19:8). Ammon asked her if she believed him, and she replied:

I have had no witness save thy word, and the word of our servants; nevertheless I believe that it shall be according as thou hast said (Alma 19:9).

Shortly afterward, she experienced a similar period of unconsciousness after which she proclaimed: “O blessed Jesus, who has saved me from an awful hell!” (Alma 19:29).

From this Lamanite queen, I have learned the following:

Listen to your intuition. Don’t let other people make you doubt your own experience and feelings. Keep seeking until you find the truth.

“She ran forth from house to house”

Abish was a servant in the house of King Lamoni. She had been converted to the gospel many years earlier “on account of a remarkable vision of her father,” but she apparently kept her faith quiet for many years, because it would not have been well received by her people (Alma 19:16). When Ammon preached the gospel to her king, and subsequently, when his entire household was converted, all of her pent-up enthusiasm came pouring out. Ammon, the king and queen, and all of the other servants had fallen to the ground overpowered by the Spirit. To Abish, the meaning of this scene was self-evident: their souls had been filled with light, and they were overcome by the power of God. She wanted all of her people to see this.

The record says that she “ran forth from house to house,” urging the people to come to the king’s house and see what had happened. For her, this was an extraordinary opportunity to share what she had known for years but had been unable to communicate. She thought that “by beholding this scene it would cause them to believe in the power of God” (Alma 19:17).

Unfortunately, she thought too highly of her friends and neighbors. At her urging, they did indeed assemble at the house of the king, but they did not understand what they were seeing. One of them even attempted to kill Ammon as he lay lifeless on the ground. When Abish returned, she was shocked and dismayed, and she did the only sensible thing under the circumstances: She “took the queen by the hand, that perhaps she might raise her from the ground.” As soon as Abish touched the queen, “she arose and stood upon her feet” (Alma 19:29). Subsequently, everyone present was converted to the Lord.

I’ve learned the following from Abish:

Take advantage of opportunities to share the gospel with others. If people don’t understand at first, don’t give up. Keep trying to help them see the truths that can bless their lives.

“We do not doubt our mothers knew it.”

The people of King Lamoni and many others who were converted by Ammon and his associates later immigrated to the land of the Nephites. Years later, during a massive conflict between the Nephites and the Lamanites, 2,060 of their sons fought bravely under the leadership of Helaman. Their contribution to the war was miraculous. Not one of them died, even though people died all around them in the battles they fought. Helaman attributed this miracle to their faith, and they in turn attributed that faith to their mothers. As Helaman explained in a letter to his superior officer, Captain Moroni:

They had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.
And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it (Alma 56:47-48).

Later in his account, Helaman marvels at the discipline, the precision, and the responsiveness of these young soldiers:

They did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them; and I did remember the words which they said unto me that their mothers had taught them (Alma 57:21).

From the mothers of these young soldiers, I have learned the following lesson:

A parent’s faith is transferable to his or her children. Young people can accomplish miracles as they trust in the convictions expressed by their parents.


Today, I will remember the lessons I have learned from Sariah, from the Lamanite queen, from Abish, and from the mothers of Helaman’s soldiers. I will trust in God’s promises, follow my intuition, enthusiastically share the gospel, and express my convictions to my children.

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What Is an Elder?

When Moses saw the burning bush on Mount Horeb, God commanded him to return to Egypt and lead his people out of slavery. Moses was somewhat concerned about fulfilling this assignment alone. But God explained that he wouldn’t be alone:

Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me…
And they shall hearken to thy voice: and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt (Exodus 3:16-18).

Throughout the books of Moses, the Lord refers many times to the “elders of Israel,” the “elders of the congregation,” or the “elders of the people.”

When Lehi and his family left Jerusalem, elders played a significant role in the city. As Zoram followed Nephi out of the city at night, carrying the spiritual record contained on brass plates, he thought they were going to meet with “the elders of the Jews,” which he also called “the brethren of the church” (1 Nephi 4:22-27).

The word for “elder” in Hebrew is zaqen – זָקֵן. While it is usually translated “elder” in the King James Version of the Bible, it is also sometimes rendered “old man,” “aged,” or “ancient.” On one occasion, it is translated “senators,” referring to their role as wise leaders (Psalm 105:22).

In the New Testament, the term is a translation of the Greek word “presbuteros” (πρεσβύτερος), meaning “a mature man having seasoned judgment (experience).” As Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel, they “ordained them elders in every church” (Acts 14:23). Paul later counseled his associate Titus to “set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city” (Titus 1:5).

The apostles Peter and John both referred to themselves as “elders” (1 Peter 5:1, 2 John 1:1, 3 John 1:1).

In the Book of Mormon, “elder” is identified as a leadership role in the church along with “priests” and “teachers” (Alma 4:7).

Elders are mature and experienced leaders. When Alma resigned as chief judge to devote himself to the ministry, “he selected a wise man who was among the elders of the church” to be his successor (Alma 4:16).

The Book of Mormon identifies several responsibilities of elders:

  • Preside – Alma “ordained priests and elders, by laying on his hands according to the order of God, to preside and watch over the church” (Alma 6:1).
  • Select other leaders – Moroni tells us that the elders “ordained priests and teachers” (Moroni 3:1).
  • Bless the sacrament – Elders and priests administered “the flesh and blood of Christ unto the church” (Moroni 4:1).
  • Administer church discipline – “Whoso was found to commit iniquity, and three witnesses of the church did condemn them before the elders, and if they repented not, and confessed not, their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ” (Moroni 6:7).

Moroni specifically notes that “elders, priests, and teachers were baptized” (Moroni 6:1). I interpret this as an affirmation that church leaders are also members, that they have made the same covenants as other members, and that they are therefore obligated to live by the same standards of conduct as every member of the church.

Elders feel a collective sense of responsibility for the church. When Alma began to see pride and contention among members of the church, not only was he troubled, but “many of the people whom [he] had consecrated to be teachers, and priests, and elders over the church…were sorely grieved for the wickedness which they saw had begun to be among their people” (Alma 4:7).

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all worthy adult men may be ordained as elders in the Melchizedek Priesthood. While they may not be very old at the time they are ordained, this title represents a level of maturity and wisdom which they are expected to demonstrate, given their responsibilities to preside, to administer priesthood ordinances, and to bless others in the name of Jesus Christ.

Today, I will be grateful for the trust God places in His children to lead and perform religious functions on His behalf. I will respect and honor the sacred trust placed in me and recommit to fulfill my church responsibilities with the wisdom and dignity appropriate to the title “elder.”

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Why Are Ordinances Important?

Yesterday, I wrote that to be ordained is to be set in order.

An ordinance is the mechanism used to create order. It is an action that is formally prescribed by God which we perform to show our devotion to Him and draw closer to Him.

The prophet Nephi urged his people to “keep the performances and ordinances of God until the law shall be fulfilled which was given unto Moses” (2 Nephi 25:30). Subsequent prophets urged their people to follow the instructions for these ordinances “strictly” (Mosiah 13:30, Alma 30:3).

Precision and consistency in carrying out ordinances is an important element of religious observance.

Malachi attributed his people’s distance from God to their abandonment of His ordinances. Speaking on behalf of God, he said:

Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts (Malachi 3:7, 3 Nephi 24:7).

Participation in ordinances brings us closer to God.

But why is that so? Why would strict compliance with a set of instructions help us to deepen and strengthen our relationship with God?

I think the prophet Alma shed some light on this question when he explained the purpose of ordinances to the people of Ammonihah:

Now these ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of his order, or it being his order, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord (Alma 13:16).

Alma says that the ordinances are “a type,” or a symbol, of the Savior’s order. Then he says, in what appears to be a correction, that they actually are His order. How can they not only symbolize His order but also establish it?

    1. Ordinances reify (make concrete or real) our beliefs and commitments. Baptism represents a rebirth. The sacrament epitomizes the internalization of the divine nature. These symbolic acts have a far more powerful impact on our minds (and therefore on our future behavior) than merely making a verbal commitment.
    2. Ordinances unify the worship of a group of people. It may seem appealing to say, “Let everyone go off and worship God in their own way.” But God wants more for us than that. His ideal is for us to experience the joy of being completely unified with other people. Jesus prayed that we all might be one, even as He and His Father are one (John 17:21, 3 Nephi 19:23, 29). When He appeared to the Nephites, His began by teaching that they should perform baptisms in a consistent manner in order to achieve the unity experienced by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 11:27-28). Ordinances integrate us into a religious order, enabling us to operate as a single unit, just as the music of a choir enables them to create something together which none of them could have created on their own.

So ordinances establish His order both individually and collectively—individually as they concretize our beliefs and commitments, and collectively as they help us achieve “the unity of the faith” which the Savior wants us to have (Ephesians 4:13).

Today, I will be grateful for the role ordinances play in my life. I will be grateful for their role in making my faith more tangible and durable, in unifying me with other believers, and ultimately in bringing me closer to God.

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What Does It Mean to Be Ordained?

We generally think of order as a good thing and its opposite—disarray, mismanagement, or chaos—as a bad thing. Most of us work hard to organize our lives and to fulfill our responsibilities in an orderly way.

Furthermore, when we participate in an organization, we want to see evidence that things have been thought through, that our participation meaningfully contributes to a greater good, and that our efforts are not dissipated by the sloppiness of the people in charge.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the earliest meaning of the word “order” was a “body of persons living under a religious discipline.” The 1828 Websters Dictionary gives many definitions of order, including a “methodical arrangement of things,” a “settled mode of operation,” a “command,” and “government or discipline.”

To create order is to “ordain” (from the Latin ordinare—“put in order, arrange, dispose, appoint”).

In the King James Version of the Bible, many things are ordained, including events (1 Kings 12:32-33), places (1 Chronicles 17:9), the moon and the stars (Psalm 8:3), and peace (Isaiah 26:12). The Bible also speaks of people being ordained as priests, prophets, apostles, and elders (Hebrews 5:1, Hebrews 8:3, Jeremiah 1:5, Mark 3:14, John 15:16, Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5).

In the Book of Mormon, the word “ordain” is always applied to people. The twelve disciples “were ordained of God, and chosen” (1 Nephi 12:7). Priests, teachers, and elders were ordained to serve in the church (Mosiah 18:18, Mosiah 25:19, Alma 6:1). Several authors speak of people being ordained according to “the holy order of God” (2 Nephi 6:2, Alma 13:1, 6, 8, 10, Alma 49:30).

The prophet Moroni explains the process by which people were ordained:

The manner which the disciples, who were called the elders of the church, ordained priests and teachers—
After they had prayed unto the Father in the name of Christ, they laid their hands upon them, and said:
In the name of Jesus Christ I ordain you to be a priest (or if he be a teacher, I ordain you to be a teacher) to preach repentance and remission of sins through Jesus Christ, by the endurance of faith on his name to the end. Amen.
And after this manner did they ordain priests and teachers, according to the gifts and callings of God unto men; and they ordained them by the power of the Holy Ghost, which was in them (Moroni 3:1-4).

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, people are “ordained” to priesthood offices but are “set apart” to specific callings or responsibilities. Although there are some differences between these two actions, they have a lot in common. In both cases, hands are laid on our head. In both cases, we are given a blessing to begin our service. And as President Russell M. Nelson recently clarified, in both cases, we receive priesthood authority (“Spiritual Treasures,” General Conference, October 2019).

Today, I will be grateful for the order that is brought into the church, into my family, and into my life by callings and priesthood offices. I will remember that ordination (and setting apart) provides structure to help us do the work of the Lord more effectively.

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