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I have been trying to figure out the value of the labels on my prescriptions, and I have decided that they have some real worth. If I read them carefully, I know what the medicines are for and when to take them and how much to take and if any special preparations are needed before or after I take them. I can figure out if a medication is designed for short- or long-term use and plan accordingly.
I taught at Education week one year, and in nearly every class I taught, prayers were offered that we might learn what we needed to learn or what the Lord wanted us to learn. I do not want to minimize the value of those prayers; learning matters. But I have a feeling that learning is not what most medications or gospel classes should be about. Reading labels is not likely to cure many diseases, nor is learning what is in the scriptures, or what is taught in Gospel classes or by living prophets.
I have a prescription for a heart problem, but all the knowledge that is available on the label will not minimize my arrhythmia. If I memorize the medical language of the prescription; if I compose poetry about it or set it to music and sing it for my family every day—even if I search the Internet for information about the usefulness of this medicine—my heart will still malfunction from time to time. All that knowledge is useless unless I open the bottle and take the Atenolol.
The Lord talked about the importance of teaching principles: “And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fullness of the gospel” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:12).
But I cannot imagine the Lord handing out keys to mansions of eternal glory based on how many principles we know. The elders and everybody else must teach those principles, and we must all learn them, but eventually we must open the bottle and get them inside of us.
The Savior sent a warning to us about this through Ezekiel. He was scheduled to address the adaptive Israelites in Babylon when the Lord spoke to him.
Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee [nearly all other translations change the word “against” to the word “about”] by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the LORD. And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not (Ezekiel 33:30-32).
We all love to hear the prophets speak! As we wait for General Conference each spring and fall, we wonder what marvelous things we might hear. Will the Prophet announce the construction of new temples? Will the missionary age change? Will the church open new missions in previously unproselyted areas? The Lord told Ezekiel of the excitement of the people to hear the “word that cometh forth from the Lord.” The come and sit and hear as the children of God should, but then they do not take the medicine prescribed by the servants of the Lord. Far too often, we listen to the words of the prophets as we might listen to beautiful music. But such music is usually not life-changing.
I took two former missionary companions to the Rodizio Grill in Salt Lake City a while ago. This Brazilian Churrascaria has an exquisite menu of delicious meats–maybe sixteen different varieties–which waiters slice onto your place in a continuous cataract of fat units, sodium, vitamins, minerals, and good taste. The meal for all of us cost over one hundred dollars. But I cannot imagine going to a place like that to eat so that I could sit at the table and read the menu. No one goes to a fine restaurant so that they can read what’s available or listen to the waiter recite the daily specials, and then pay the bill for what they like most, and go home. It doesn’t matter how good the food sounds. No one will go home delighted because they paid for a great (uneaten) meal. Knowing what is available for dinner is not the same thing as eating dinner.
Thoughts like these must have inspired Job to write “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food (Job 23:12).
I am sure that I have some spiritual heart problems that need the medicine contained in the word of God.
“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
“[T]he imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth . . .” (Genesis 8:21).
“His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone” (Job 41:24).
“[T]hey hardened their hearts and blinded their minds . . .” (1 Nephi 17:30).
The scriptures contain hundreds of references to heart problems. Anyone who wanted to could locate a reliable description of the sickness with which he or she was afflicted, and learn about the problems associated therewith. But then he or she would need to find the medicine that would lead to healing. The prescriptions for those problems are in the standard works and the words of the living prophets. For example:
“And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true. And behold, he preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. And behold, they were faithful until the end; therefore they were saved. And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5:12-14).
I guess it is possible to beat a principle to death, but this one still has some glimmers of life, so on I go. Elder Russell M. Nelson told this story in conference a few years ago.
“Many of us have had experiences with the sweet power of prayer. One of mine was shared with a stake patriarch from southern Utah. I first met him in my medical office more than 40 years ago, during the early pioneering days of surgery of the heart. This saintly soul suffered much because of a failing heart. He pleaded for help, thinking that his condition resulted from a damaged but repairable valve in his heart.
“Extensive evaluation revealed that he had two faulty valves. While one could be helped surgically, the other could not. Thus, an operation was not advised. He received this news with deep disappointment.
“Subsequent visits ended with the same advice. Finally, in desperation, he spoke to me with considerable emotion: ‘Dr. Nelson, I have prayed for help and have been directed to you. The Lord will not reveal to me how to repair that second valve, but He can reveal it to you. Your mind is so prepared. If you will operate upon me, the Lord will make it known to you what to do. Please perform the operation that I need, and pray for the help that you need.’
“His great faith had a profound effect upon me. How could I turn him away again? Following a fervent prayer together, I agreed to try. In preparing for that fateful day, I prayed over and over again, but still did not know what to do for his leaking tricuspid valve. Even as the operation commenced, my assistant asked, ‘What are you going to do for that?’
“I said, ‘I do not know.’
“We began the operation. After relieving the obstruction of the first valve, we exposed the second valve. We found it to be intact but so badly dilated that it could no longer function as it should. While examining this valve, a message was distinctly impressed upon my mind: Reduce the circumference of the ring. I announced that message to my assistant. ‘The valve tissue will be sufficient if we can effectively reduce the ring toward its normal size.’
“But how? We could not apply a belt as one would use to tighten the waist of oversized trousers. We could not squeeze with a strap as one would cinch a saddle on a horse. Then a picture came vividly to my mind, showing how stitches could be placed, to make a pleat here and a tuck there, to accomplish the desired objective. I still remember that mental image; complete with dotted lines where sutures should be placed. The repair was completed as diagrammed in my mind. We tested the valve and found the leak to be reduced remarkably. My assistant said, ‘It’s a miracle’ (Russell M. Nelson, Ensign, May 2003, p. 7 ).
I am afraid that I am at times reluctant to put myself in the hands of the master physician, climb onto the table, and say “change my heart. I know it has problems. You have a perfect understanding of what I need. Fix me, please.”
My daughter called and read this poem to me from her home in Oregon:
By Mary Margaret Hawkins
Soul sick, I sought His promised balm
And soothing healer’s art.
He quick dismissed my shallow wounds
But studied on my heart.
A gentle salve was not prescribed
For the wholeness I desired.
A surgeon’s cutting to replace
My heart would be required.
In trust, consenting, then I begged
One painful lance and three days dumb
Then sweet rebirth as Paul.
But by more common miracle
The healer works in me,
As day by decade soft He builds
New heart where none can see.
A tedious, mighty change is wrought
Till no cell is the same.
As in the fleshy tables there
He writes His word, His name.
[Ensign, Apr 1999}
At some time in our lives, if he have a hope of heaven, we must all climb on the table and plead with the Master Surgeon to mend our hearts. We need to read the words, the labels, on his scriptural prescriptions, but that won’t matter much unless we take the medicine.