We find the word “heart” more than 1,600 times in the scriptures. The Guide to the Scriptures provides the following helpful definition: “A symbol of the mind and will of man and the figurative source of all emotions and feelings.” What is in our hearts represents who we are and reveals our commitments to our Father in Heaven and our Lord Jesus Christ.
As Samuel of the Old Testament, acting as a servant of the Lord, was assigned to anoint a new king, he appeared to be impressed with Eliab and said, “…surely the Lord’s anointed is before him” (1 Samuel 16:6).
The Lord responded to Samuel with a key instruction for all of us: “…Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
One day, as I was honouring my personal commitment to read and complete the Old Testament, I came across the following verse that caught my attention: “Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart” (2 Chronicles 32:31); italics added).
As I read this verse in 2 Chronicles 32, Adam’s experience shortly after leaving the Garden of Eden came to mind: “And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me” (Moses 5:6).
One question instantly came to my mind: How long is “And after many days”? After some pondering, I became comfortable with an answer that satisfied my curiosity — I determined it was probably “sufficient time,” meaning sufficient time for Adam to determine what he would do with what had been requested of him and to express the decision he had in his heart. Adam’s response contained no pretending at all, just the honest feeling of his heart. When the messenger assessed what was in Adam’s heart, he was then able to instruct him, and a significant spiritual experience for Adam then followed.
I also recalled the experience Nephi had as he desired to know the things that his father had seen. The Spirit of the Lord asked him two important questions: …“what desirest thou?” (1 Nephi 11:2), and …“Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?” (1 Nephi 11:4). These simple questions were directly designed to see what was in Nephi’s heart. Important blessings then followed Nephi’s answers (see 1 Nephi 11:6–36).
Showing what we have in our hearts and what we have decided about our Father in Heaven and our Lord Jesus Christ has always been very important to them. A good and prepared heart helps us to receive key instructions or to understand principles or doctrine, thus, enabling us to act for ourselves. It has been said, “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;” (D&C 58:26–27).
Many, if not all, of the commandments do not provide in detail what we should do or how to go about fully obeying the commandment; for example, as cited in the following two scriptures:
“Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.” (Exodus 31: 13).
“And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God.” (Ezekiel 20:20)
President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “Before I was a surgeon, I memorized people’s lists about things that were OK to do and not OK to do, and my wife and I tried to be obedient to those lists. When I found these two scriptures [in Exodus 31 and Ezekiel 20], I threw the lists away, and I said, ‘All I have to do is to decide what sign I want to give to God’” (General Conference Leadership Training, April 2014).
So it is with keeping the Sabbath day holy, with paying an honest tithing and with obeying many other commandments. After considering the guidelines available to us, we may decide what sign we want to give to our Father in Heaven. If we feel good about our application of the gospel, we continue. If we do not feel comfortable with our decision, we pray, study and ponder to find a better sign to give.
What we have in our hearts and who we are also constitute a key ingredient in obtaining the blessing of a personal testimony. I remember hearing the testimony of a young 11-year-old girl during a sacrament meeting in which she related her most pleasant experience of being sealed to her parents in the temple. With her gentle voice and kind heart, she concluded with the following words: “The temple was so beautiful. I did not want to leave.”
What we have in our hearts often helps us to receive the inspiration of the “still, small voice.”
The freedom to decide for ourselves is a most important gift, which came because of the sacred Atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. Showing faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, repenting of our mistakes and making sincere efforts to honour our promises to the Lord are all meaningful “offerings of our heart.” I know rich blessings await each one of us as we strive to keep our commitments to come to Him.