When Jesus Christ ministered among the Nephites in ancient America, one of the first doctrines that he taught was: “And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away … And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (3 Nephi 9:19-20).
One of the Come, Follow Me “Ideas for Personal Scripture Study” for the week November 4-10 invites us to reflect on: “What can I do to develop a soft and contrite heart?” This question prompted us to reflect on ways to interpret and implement Christ’s counsel into our daily lives.
Initially, we attempted to liken having a “broken heart” to breaking an arm or suffering and recovering from a physical injury, but we found that this analogy was too literal. Christ does not want us to lead broken lives. One of the most important things He did when He visited among the Nephites was heal those who were “afflicted in any manner” (3 Nephi 17:7).
We decided we needed to understand the symbolism in Christ’s imagery. For example, we should be receptive to spiritual promptings to help and minister to those who feel “broken.” We can develop and demonstrate empathy for others by visiting and reaching out, listening carefully, offering encouragement, feeding the hungry, or simply extending a hug. As Jesus taught, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
To gain a better understanding of what it means to seek a soft and contrite heart, we decided to read and ponder each of the scripture references suggested by the Come, Follow Me curriculum about having a receptive heart and mind.
Moroni counsels us to “rend that veil of unbelief which doth cause you to remain in your awful state of wickedness, and hardness of heart, and blindness of mind” (italics added). We are to live righteously and not be hardened or blind in our feelings or thoughts towards ourselves or others.
This scripture encourages us to: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
Relying solely on human knowledge cannot save us. The key is to trust in God. We are promised that God will guide us in “the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come” (“The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles,” Ensign, Apr. 2000, 2).
In this sermon Alma asks us to ponder life-changing questions: “Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality?”
We need to receive Christ into our lives. Then, Alma adds: “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?” (Alma 5:26) We should have an enduring change of heart.
Nephi describes how his faith was strengthened: “I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers” (italics added). Earnest and sincere personal prayers enabled Nephi to receive answers to his questions. The image of a softened, not a rebellious, heart is critical to being able to receive personal revelation.
When his brothers did not understand the revelations of their father, Nephi asks them if they have “inquired of the Lord?” When they responded that they had not, he asks them: “How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?” We need to be earnestly seeking answers and asking the Lord to help us. As we listen for inspired answers, we must act upon those promptings.
Nephi promises: “If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.” If we conscientiously focus our thoughts and actions on obeying God’s commandments, we can move forward.
In these verses Jacob explains how the leaders of his times had “labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ. …Wherefore, we would to God that we could persuade all men not to rebel against God, to provoke him to anger, but that all men would believe in Christ, and view his death and suffer his cross and bear the shame of the world.”
We should counter any tendencies to rebel and provoke with an in-depth understanding of the Savior’s ministry and atoning sufferings on the cross. It is only through Christ’s “grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).
In these verses, Alma explains: “Whosoever repenteth and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest.” Repenting is a vital action of a broken (soft) and contrite heart. It is the key to receiving Christ’s mercy and a remission of our sins.
Qualities and Abilities of a Soft and Contrite Heart
Developing a soft and contrite heart does not mean that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are to be a broken people. Instead, we need to “exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). As we strive to live according to God’s commandments, follow daily promptings in answer to our prayers, and worthily partake of the sacrament each week, we will be able to say as Paul did, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).