About nine hundred years after Nephi’s day, Moroni gave the world a challenge to know whether or not the written word upon the plates is true. It is not a knowledge that can be purchased or simply learned in the history books; it has to come from the Spirit of God to the spirit of man, woman or child. In Moroni 10:3-5, he lays it out in three simple steps – to read, ponder and pray. Many of us have tried this three-step program to learn God’s truth, but how many of us have really paid attention to Moroni’s words? In the fourth verse, he gives us two key phrases – “with a sincere heart” and “with real intent.”
Having just studied through Lehi’s vision of the tree of life (and many other illustrative figures) this week, it becomes clearer that the level of personal revelation used by us differs from one to the next in visualizing and understanding what is being described as we read. After Nephi heard his father’s description of the vision, he desired to know for himself the same things which his father saw. As he was pondering the words in his mind, he was indeed caught up in the spirit and received the same vision, as well as learning some additional meanings of those things seen.
It’s quite safe to assume that Nephi did not leave his father’s presence and turn to his favorite video game, or to the TV room. Even if they had existed in his day, I don’t think that that’s where he would have gone – maybe Laman would have, but not Nephi. Instead, he went off on his own…somewhere where he could sit alone and ponder upon those things described by his father. It might have been to a quiet corner under the tent; or more likely, maybe down the path a little just out of sight of the others. Nephi not only had a sincere heart to learn for himself, but he also sought with real intent. For us, what is the difference between sincerity and intention, and why did Moroni mention them both?
When we read, ponder and pray, sure, we mostly will do it with a sincere heart. We truly want to know if Nephi’s words are true. We really want to understand the fruits of repentance as felt by Alma the younger. We don’t want to be murmurers like Laman! So, do we study with real intent? Intent(ion) of doing what, you might ask? Laman certainly was sincere in his desire to follow their father through the wilderness to the promised land – he went, didn’t he!? He just lacked the real intent to learn for himself, instead of just going through the motions. Nephi intended to learn for himself, and did those things necessary to do so – obedience being at the top of the list. He truly intended to change his ways as befitting the truth of his father’s words. We might even say that truth learned through sincerity does us good only if we intend to change our ways to accommodate such truth.
I have said before that I sincerely would like to lose weight. I’m as sincere as I could possibly be when I say that. However, what are my real intentions of making the necessary changes in my life? Have I changed any of my eating habits, or taken on some meaningful exercises? In the afternoon, is it an apple or a candy bar? With dinner, is it french fries or vegetables? My real intent has not yet caught up with my sincere heart. The same is true with our testimony of the Book of Mormon. After a spiritual Sunday meeting or Seminary lesson, to where have we turned? To the TV room, or to the video game? Or silently to our room, away from others, with our scriptures to really know for ourselves? Jesus Christ seemed to often turn to the Garden of Gethsemane. Joseph Smith turned to the nearby woods. As we read, ponder and pray, may we also find our personal garden or woods, and work on cultivating our sincere heart with our real intent. Just like Nephi, the vision of life could truly be opened to us and different meanings could be understood if we get there as challenged by Moroni. Let your real intent indeed catch up with your sincere heart.