A Recipe for the Pure in Heart

I love warm chocolate chip cookies.  When my wife Jennifer and I had high school age children, it seemed almost impossible to get them to slow down to spend time with us. But Jenn knew the secret.  She makes amazing chocolate chip cookies and when she did, it seemed kids always wanted to hang around, laugh and talk. I think they loved the cookies, but more than anything, they wanted to lick the batter from the bowl. We ate a lot of cookies during those years!

When it was time to bake cookies, we would get out the ingredients: 2 ¼ cups of flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 stick of butter, ¾ cup of sugar, ¾ cup brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 eggs, and lots of chocolate chips.

Once in a while, because we were making double batches or have lots of hands in the kitchen, we’d get the recipe mixed up.  Once we added a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon of salt. That was no good! Once, we forgot the baking soda. Even though we had all the flour in the world, when we left out that tsp of baking soda, those cookies came out as flat as could be.

It’s interesting that everything in that recipe–the baking soda, vanilla, and eggs were necessary to produce the best end result.  If any one thing was left out, it didn’t work.

It’s the same in our pursuit of eternal life. You may be exceptional at serving others, but obedience to the commandment is something that can’t be left out. It seems the Lord wants us to be a complete spiritual being. He wants us to possess all of his characteristics.  I also believe there is an order—a recipe–for helping us become like him. 

Back to my cookie analogy, if I had given my children the ingredients of the recipe separately, their reaction would have been different. Let’s say I gave them 2¼ cups of flour and asked them to eat the flour and then wash it down with a tsp of vanilla, and then eat the ¾ cup of brown sugar, and then the 2 raw eggs; it wouldn’t have worked.

Cookies must have the right ingredients, mixed in the proper order, and carefully prepared and baked.  Similarly, the principles taught in 3 Nephi 12 may also be essential ingredients to discipleship and have an order for development in our lives.

As you read 3 Nephi 12, you may want to ask several questions:

  1. Immediately after appearing to the Nephites and showing himself to them, Jesus teaches the principles similar to those of the beatitudes.  Why are these the first principles taught after baptism and following the prophet?  These particular principles must be critically important to Him.  Why?
  2. Are these principles simply a list of important character traits we are to develop or is there some purpose in the order or pattern in which they are presented?  In other words, are they ingredients to a larger recipe?

There is a pattern evident in the principles in 3 Nephi 12. It begins with a person who is poor in spirit (seeking spiritual help) which causes them to mourn for their sins.  Who then, because of their mourning becomes meek and willing.  Then, when he/she is meek, they desire righteousness.  Then, seeing themselves as dependent on grace, he/she judging and extends mercy.  The end result is they are enabled and capable of being pure of heart. 

Let’s examine this process more closely.  Perhaps we will see it is almost impossible to become pure in heart without the experiences of the preceding characteristics.

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit who come unto me

What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  To be poor economically means we lack money or resources necessary to live. To be poor emotionally means we lack the emotional strength to withstand the trials of day-to-day life. To be poor spiritually means we are separated from Christ and seek to draw closer to him. We are spiritual beggars.

Beggars often live in the margins of society.  In some religions, those who farm believe that you should not harvest the margins of your field.  You harvest the inside of your field but the outer edges you leave for the poor to harvest and keep for themselves.  You leave the margins for the beggars.

In Leviticus, God commands Israel to not reap “all the way to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest, but leave them for the poor and the stranger.” 

Those of us who live in the margins spiritually, rely wholly on the merits of him who is might to save. We realize that spiritually we are dead, having sinned; and know it is by grace after all that we can do that will save us spiritually.  So symbolically, we live in the spiritual margins, with no claim to our own harvest but relying on the mercy of the great landowner to let us live in the margins.

Perhaps you have lived in the margins: not just financially, but may be doing so now emotionally or spiritually. Discouraged, doing less than right, maybe afflicted by poor health, family struggles or just weary. To those living in the margins, the Lord promises they will be blessed. 

In one of the greatest ironies, the scripture tells us to live in the margins. In doing so, we demonstrate that we know we can’t do anything of our own selves, that we could labor all our days and never approach qualifying for heaven. It is as if we say, “I am content to live as a beggar, relying on the Lord for my guidance, my direction and my spiritual development.” 

And the interesting thing is this, the longer I live, the more I see the blessed state in which I live when I voluntarily live in the margins. When my attitude remains as one relying entirely upon the Lord.  Giving others the glory in the harvest… “I’ll work the unnoticed in the margins, you can harvest the noticeable center of the field.”  When I am dependent on heavens guidance, I see more miracles in my life. Heaven knows I’ve made enough mistakes to genuinely belong in the margins. Perhaps I am more comfortable there because that is where my Savior lived when he was on earth—in the margins. 

To be poor in spirit, means we are empty of self-importance or self-knowledge, and even self-righteousness. It is a continuous way of thinking and living whereby we constantly seek His grace. This way of living acknowledges our desperate need for God. When we recognize our spiritual poverty, we acknowledge our complete dependence on Him and place our complete trust in Him.

Robert Wells taught, “I would like to use a short version, as I remember it, of the famous Hugh B. Brown parable to illustrate submission. When he was young, President Brown had a nice yard in front of his home with a lawn, flowers, shrubs, fruit trees, and shade trees. There was a currant bush he had carefully trimmed to be in an attractive shape and to produce the best fruit. Noticing that it had started to branch out again, he went for the pruning shears. As he approached the currant bush, he seemed to hear it say, ‘Oh please, Mr. Gardener, don’t cut me back, I’m just getting started and I want to be big like the shade trees.’

President Brown responded, ‘No, my little bush. I am the gardener here and I have planted thee to be a source of fruit and an adornment in this part of my garden, and I am going to prune thee back to size.’

Many years later President Brown was a full colonel in the Canadian forces in France in World War I. He could see the possibility of an illustrious military career. He wanted to become the first LDS general since Book of Mormon times. He was competent and well prepared. The next vacancy as a general should have been his, but when the vacancy occurred, he was called in by his superiors and told, ‘We are promoting someone else over you.’ In effect they were saying, ‘There has never been a Mormon general in his Majesty’s Royal Forces and there probably never will be.’

He retired to his quarters, crushed with disappointment, and knelt in prayer asking fervently, ‘Heavenly Father, why couldn’t my prayers have been answered? Haven’t I lived up to my covenants? Haven’t I done everything I was supposed to do? Why? Why?’

And then he heard a voice, an echo from the past, saying, ‘I am the gardener here. You were not intended for what you sought to be.’ Humbled, President Brown then prayed for humility and patience to endure the pruning and to grow as the Lord would have him grow.

I translated that story for him on a tour of South America. He told me afterwards, ‘Bob, I know if I had continued in that direction I would never have developed the way the Lord wanted me to so I could eventually serve him as an apostle and in the First Presidency.’”[i]

Poor in spirit means you accept the workings of God in your life gratefully just as a beggar in the margins. And the promise?  Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Blessed are they that mourn

One who is truly poor in spirit is more likely to mourn. To mourn is to feel or express sorrow or grief over loss, misfortune, or separation. When I see the spiritual gap between myself and my Savior, one natural outcome is to mourn my weaknesses and tendencies for sin.

Why does the Lord want us to mourn or at least suggest we are blessed when we mourn?  Could it be that mourning the death of a loved one can lead us to Christ?  The pain and suffering of the separation from a loved one may be an essential part of our spiritual discipleship.  That by being so separated, we realize and value the power of Christ to reunite us with those who we love.

By mourning for our sins, we come to understand the sorrow for sin and the joy of redemption.  My mourning the sins of the world, we empathize with Christ and become more like a disciple as we plead for the grace and power of God to bring peace to the world.

In this way, isn’t mourning a commandment that makes sense for the developing disciple?  Bruce Hafen wrote,

“In Luke 4:18, Jesus quotes part of a passage from Isaiah that describes the heart of his ministry. The Isaiah passage reads: “The Spirit of the Lord … hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; … to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, … to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion … beauty for ashes.” (Isa. 61:1, 3)

The Savior’s atonement is thus portrayed as the healing power not only for sin, but also for carelessness, inadequacy, and all mortal bitterness. The Atonement is not just for sinners…

It is so important for us to be on the Lord’s side. But we should never forget that the Lord is also on our side.

Each of us will taste the bitter ashes of life, from sin and neglect to sorrow and disappointment. But the atonement of Christ can lift us up in beauty from our ashes on the wings of a sure promise of immortality and eternal life. He will thus lift us up, not only at the end of life, but in each day of our lives.”[ii]

Blessed are the meek

A person who is poor in spirit and mourns, is more likely to be meek.  When we are truly reliant on the Lord for his grace, we develop meekness.

The Lord’s disciples follow his word and obey his voice. Like a little child following his father, the meek are earthly beings who choose to follow their spiritual father.  His voice is their command.  Brother Robert Wells teaches this principle with the following story.

“I was visiting a huge estancia (ranch) in Argentina with over 100,000 acres of lush pampa. They had 20,000 head of cattle on the ranch and over a thousand head of beautiful horses—some for the gauchos to ride, but most were thoroughbred polo ponies that they trained and sold all over the world.

In the course of the afternoon’s conversation I asked the distinguished estanciero (owner) if we would see a rodeo where the gauchos would be breaking wild horses like our western cowboys. The owner was aghast. ‘Not on this ranch you won’t,’ was his emphatic answer. “We would never break a horse. We don’t want to break his spirit. We love them and work patiently with them and train them until they are meek or ‘manso.’’ He said, ‘Our meek (or ‘manso.’) horses are still full of fire and spirit, but they are obedient and well trained. They lose nothing of their speed or maneuverability. A polo pony has to be the finest horseflesh on the face of the earth. They are lightning fast and superbly maneuverable to follow the run-and-gun type of game that world-class polo is. The horse cannot be timid or afraid of anything, but must be obedient and superbly well trained.’

I can see a great spiritual application now to the meaning manso or meek. I don’t feel the Savior wanted us to be doormats to be walked on. I prefer to think he meant that we should be obedient and well trained. You can be strong, enthusiastic, talented, spirited, zealous, and still be “meek” by being obedient and well trained. I can seek to be that kind of a meek person and be proud to have that as my goal—obedient and well trained—and still coexist in the success-oriented world in which we live.”[iii]

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness

A person who is meek, is more likely to hunger and thirst after righteousness. 

According to Webster, righteousness is defined as “the quality of being morally true or justifiable.”  In spiritual terms, righteousness means being at right with God. Righteousness also represents the sum total of God’s characteristics and goodness. When we seek after righteousness we seek (1) to be right with God, justified and aligned with him. As sinners this is only possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ. So, to be right, we must fully repent offering a broken heart and contrite spirit, relying on the merit of Him who is mighty to save.  This means we hunger after the grace of Jesus Christ.  Then, (2) we do our best to put on the character of God.  These characteristics are what we thirst after in our daily walk–goodness, honesty, mercy, kindness, moral worthiness and long-suffering.

But the question remains for all of us:  Do we really hunger and thirst after righteousness? I mean we all want to be righteous.  But do we, as if we had been fasting for forty days and nights, hunger for righteousness in our life before our earthly needs, moods or wants?  Do I desperately want moral goodness above the temptations of the world?

The promise in 3 Nephi 12:6 is that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled with the Holy Ghost. The more we seek righteousness, the more we will have the Holy Ghost.  So, the simple question is “What do I do in my day to hunger after righteousness?”

Perhaps by seeking righteousness and following the Holy Ghost, we separate ourselves from and ever-increasing evil world.  Elder Andersen has promised as the evils of the world increase, the righteous (those who seek the character of God in their own life) will find a compensatory power in their life.

“As evil increases in the world, there is a compensatory spiritual power for the righteous. As the world slides from its spiritual moorings, the Lord prepares the way for those who seek Him, offering them greater assurance, greater confirmation, and greater confidence in the spiritual direction they are traveling. The gift of the Holy Ghost becomes a brighter light in the emerging twilight…. My brothers and sisters, as evil increases in the world, there is a compensatory power, and additional spiritual endowment, a revelatory gift for the righteous.”[iv]

Blessed are the merciful

A person who is poor in spirit, mourns, is meek and seeks to be right with the Lord; is more apt to be merciful.

One of the biggest lessons I learned as a first-time Bishop was the beauty of the repentance process. First and foremost, as a Bishop I became more aware of my own inadequacies and shortfalls. Once I saw my own state of relying on the Lord’s grace, it was easier to have empathy for those with whom I worked. It was a humbling experience to see true repentance at work. As a result, I learned to stop judging. There wasn’t a ward member, regardless of what they had done, for whom I did petition heaven for mercy and divine help. I prayed often for the members of my ward that the Lord would extend his grace for them and for me.

Over the years, as I have that when we are merciful we have peace in our life.  Because I have sinned, I am completely and utterly reliant on Jesus Christ.  How then can I then judge another?  Catherine Parry shared the following thought about judging others:

Those of us with more of Martha than of Mary in us . . . do not doubt the overriding importance of listening to the Lord, [but] does the listening have to be done during dinner preparations? Would it have hurt Mary to have joined us in serving, then we all could have sat down to hear the Lord together? And furthermore, what about the value of our work in the world? If it weren’t for us Martha’s cleaning whatever we see and fussing over meals, there would be a lot of dirty, hungry people in this world. We may not live by bread alone, but I’ve never known anyone to live without it. Why, oh, why couldn’t the Lord have said, “You’re absolutely right, Martha. What are we thinking of to let you do all this work alone? We’ll all help, and by the way, that centerpiece looks lovely”?

What he did say is difficult to bear, but perhaps somewhat less difficult if we examine its context…. The Lord acknowledges Martha’s care: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things” (v. 41). Then he delivers the gentle but clear rebuke. But the rebuke would not have come had Martha not prompted it. The Lord did not go into the kitchen and tell Martha to stop cooking and come listen. Apparently, he was content to let her serve him however she cared to, until she judged another person’s service: “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me” (v. 40). Martha’s self-importance, expressed through her judgment of her sister, occasioned the Lord’s rebuke, not her busyness with the meal. [Quite literally, they were measured by their own standards and found wanting….

While there are many things we must make judgments about, the sins of another or the state of our own souls in comparison to others seems not to be among them…. Our own sins, no matter how few or seemingly insignificant, disqualify us as judges of other people’s sins.[v]

Blessed are the pure in heart

A person who is poor in spirit, mourns, is meek, seeks to be right with the Lord and is merciful; will be more able to be pure in heart.

Elder Oaks taught that to have a pure heart is to be pure in our motives, desires and attitudes (in addition to our actions). How can our motives and desires be purified without having lived in the margins spiritually and fully relying on the grace of Jesus for all we have and do? 

The pure in heart are more able to have the deep motive of purity because of the following:

  1. They have lived in the margins relying on the Lord
  2. They have mourned their standing with the Lord and sought the peace of repentance
  3. They are meek or willing to follow Jesus no matter what
  4. They desire to be right with Christ and righteous in their daily walk
  5. They extend mercy and develop a pure love for others

Like baking a great batch of cookies, becoming pure in heart is a process requiring the right ingredients and process.  These ingredients of discipleship are so important, the Lord’s primary message to the Jews and Nephites began with these principles. We would do well to follow these same principles in our life.

[i] Robert E. Wells, The Christ-Focused Beatitudes, BYU Speeches, May 20, 1986.

[ii] Bruce Hafen, Beauty for Ashes: The Atonement of Jesus ChristEnsign, Apr. 1990, 13.

[iii] Robert E. Wells, The Christ-Focused Beatitudes, BYU Speeches, May 20, 1986.

[iv] Neil L. Andersen, A Compensatory Spiritual Power, BYU Speeches, August 18, 2015.

[v] Catherine Corman Parry, Simon, I Have Somewhat to Say unto Thee, BYU Speeches, 1990–91.