By Michael R.
Like people of many other faiths, Mormons believe that God has not left us alone in our efforts to face life’s challenges. Rather, he has provided multiple ways by which we can discover how to make choices that result in a better, happier life. As Christians, we look to the holy scriptures for knowledge and guidance. The senior leaders of our faith, whom we believe to be living prophets, also provide instruction for our temporal and spiritual welfare. We also seek answers through personal prayer, with the expectation that God hears and answers our sincere prayers. We also believe that there is another important path to the answers we seek: carefully pondering important questions.
“Ponder” is an active verb that means to carefully consider, analyze, and synthesize ideas and information with the goal of deepening our understanding of that which we ponder. God expects us to ponder sacred things, especially as they apply to strengthening our personal righteousness, facing challenges, bearing burdens, and resolving problems.
When we discover truth through pondering, we believe the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit) helps us recognize it by communicating directly with our own spirit. The feelings, impressions, or thoughts we experience at such moments are unique to each person, but undeniable.
I believe there are six essential elements of successful pondering:
We should choose wisely the “what” and why” of our pondering.
We should ponder selectively, avoiding unimportant, unworthy, or toxic subjects. The purpose of our pondering greatly affects each outcome, much as the seed we plant determines which kind of tree will grow. For example, pondering our sinful behavior in order to wallow deeper in it is self-destructive; pondering our sinful behavior in order to successfully abandon it can be a key to successful repentance.
Pondering is an intellectual and spiritual exercise. It is one of the highest uses of this powerful brain that God has given to us, and it can help us learn to control our thoughts, words, and actions. One apostle, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, taught wisely about the connection between our thoughts and actions:
“All evils to which so many become addicted begin in the mind and in the way one thinks. Experience teaches that when the will and imagination are in conflict, the imagination usually wins. What we imagine may defeat our reason and make us slaves to what we taste, see, hear, smell, and feel in the mind’s eye. The body is indeed the servant of the mind.” (Pondering Strengthens the Spiritual Life)
Pondering requires a quiet and focused mind.
Modern life, especially in developed countries, has become so busy, hurried, and flooded with distractions that we may become addicted to the torrents of information that incessantly soak up our “mindshare”. Some may even find solitary thinking to be uncomfortable. Nevertheless, successful pondering is possible only when one’s mind is quiet and focused.
It would seem useful then to begin the pondering process by finding or creating an environment that is free of distracting sights and sounds. The next step is to proactively quiet one’s own thinking. Something as simple as closing one’s eyes and concentrating on one’s own breathing can be very helpful in clearing one’s mind and preparing it to focus. Next, mentally engage the subject of your contemplation, and begin the process by asking a relevant seed question.
Pondering requires effective inquiry.
Effective inquiry is essential and extremely powerful in the pondering process. The sincere questioning of which I speak has nothing whatsoever to do with doubting but everything to do with genuine, humble inquiry.
The Lord commands us all to inquire of Him in our search for knowledge and wisdom: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7).
I have often found that beginning with questions that do not have a yes or no answer often helps me understand a subject more fully, and often leads to the yes or no answer I seek.
Pondering requires mental effort.
Effective inquiry is necessary, but can be insufficient to find the answers we seek while pondering. The Lord grants inspiration and revelation to those who exert themselves and diligently apply their current knowledge, experience, and reasoning abilities in seeking answers while pondering sacred things.
The apostle Lorenzo Snow taught this concept explicitly: “It is impossible to advance in the principles of truth, to increase in heavenly knowledge, [unless] we exercise our reasoning faculties and exert ourselves in a proper manner” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow).
Pondering requires time.
There are no shortcuts in pondering, and there is no substitute for the investment of time in obtaining our answers. The Lord has declared a stepwise pattern of learning eternal truths and gaining wisdom that can only be accomplished over a period of time.
Persisting in our search is essential to its successful conclusion. Elder David A. Bednar explained the practical aspects of this principle:
“Let me suggest that many of us typically assume we will receive an answer or a prompting to our earnest prayers and pleadings. And we also frequently expect that such an answer or a prompting will come immediately and all at once. Thus, we tend to believe the Lord will give us A BIG ANSWER QUICKLY AND ALL AT ONE TIME. However, the pattern repeatedly described in the scriptures suggests we receive “line upon line, precept upon precept,” or in other words, many small answers over a period of time. Recognizing and understanding this pattern is an important key to obtaining inspiration and help from the Holy Ghost.” (Line Upon Line, Precept Upon Precept)
Pondering is helped by relevant study.
Your brain can do more when it has more material available. The Holy Spirit can help you connect the dots into an understandable picture when there are more dots to connect. Mormons believe that the Lord commands us to seek knowledge and wisdom from high quality secular sources: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith” (D&C 109:7).
In summary, the principles discussed above are:
- Pondering worthwhile subjects for good reasons invites the Holy Ghost into our thinking and helps us develop mental and spiritual discipline.
- Preparing our minds to ponder enables us to concentrate and give our best effort.
- Understanding the kinds of questions that have prompted revelation from the Lord in the past can help us learn to inquire wisely in the present.
- We must spiritually and mentally exert ourselves if we expect the Lord to reward our search for understanding.
- Persistence is essential in successful pondering.
- Pertinent subject knowledge can greatly expedite our pondering efforts.
These principles should be helpful in seeking deeper understanding through purposeful pondering. As we learn to ponder important subjects, especially the things of God, we may take great confidence in the Savior’s promise: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).