Changes of heart

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Yesterday I posted about change, real change, the kind that sticks.  Today I wanted to talk a little about how the change begins. 

In my daily scripture study, I happen to be reading about Ammon, one of the sons of Mosiah, who went to preach the gospel among the Lamanites.  As the story goes, he finds a people who take him to their king.  The king questions his motives in visiting the king’s people, as Ammon is a Nephite, enemies of the Lamanites.  Ammon assures him that his only desire is to serve Lamoni’s (the Lamanite king) people.  He even says that maybe he’ll live with them for the rest of his life.  Lamoni likes him so much that he offers to give Ammon one of his daughters in marriage.  Ammon declines and takes a job watching the king’s sheep.

In their daily endeavors, Ammon and the other servants take the sheep to a watering hole, where some of the other Lamanites have taken to the practice of scattering the king’s sheep and mixing them in with their own herds.  Then when the servants return home, the king executes those who have allowed his sheep to be scattered.

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When these other Lamanites try to scatter the herd Ammon is watching, Ammon tells the other servants to encircle the sheep and keep them together.  Then Ammon goes to contend with these men, who “are in number, not a few”.  Six, he kills with his sling shot.  Another, he kills with his sword.  By now, of course, those sheep scatterers are furious and trying to kill Ammon because of what he has done to their friends.  Any of the Lamanites who choose to lift up a sword against Ammon get their arms cut off, until they flee from the situation, fearful for their lives.

The servants with Ammon gather the arms, take them to the king, and tell the king all that happened at the watering hole.  To their account, they also add their testimony that they know Ammon cannot be killed because they watched plenty of people try to do it and fail.  This information troubles the king.  For the scriptures say, Lamoni said unto his servants, “Now I know that it (Ammon) is the Great Spirit; and he has come down at this time to preserve your lives, that I might not slay you as I did your brethren….”  Then a verse later, it reads, “….nevertheless, Lamoni began to fear exceedingly, with fear lest he had done wrong in the slaying of his servants…..”

When the king inquires of Ammon’s whereabouts, the servants tell him that Ammon is tending to your horses, like you instructed us to, which further astonishes the king because Ammon is so faithful in executing his commands.  By the time Ammon comes to report to the king, Lamoni is not sure about what he wants to say or how he wants to say it.  Eventually they start talking and King Lamoni has his questions answered.  Ammon then begins to expound the plan of salvation unto the king and teaches him about the Savior.

As I have pondered about the story, it would appear that King Lamoni’s change of heart happens right as he is considering if somehow he has done wrong in slaying the servants whose flocks were scattered.  Did I make a mistake in handling the situation this way….?  He searches and questions his motives, intentions, and actions.

A few chapters later, Ammon and King Lamoni are traveling and they run into Lamoni’s father, king over all the land.  He is not happy his son is keeping company with a Nephite, who is the child of a liar, in his opinion.  He commands his son to kill Ammon.  When Lamoni will not comply, the king decides to do it himself.  He, of course, is unsuccessful in his attempt.  When he is about to lose his life to Ammon, he offers to give Ammon anything he desires, up to half of his kingdom.  Ammon only wants what is right.  He requests that his brothers be freed from prison and the Lamoni retains his kingdom without interference from his father.  When Lamoni’s father realizes that Ammon really loves his son and is not seeking for wealth or power, his heart changes—-when he realizes he has been wrong about Ammon’s character and intentions.

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When we search our hearts and realize that our behaviors, thoughts, or words are not in harmony with God’s laws or desires for us, and we are willing to change, our hearts are softened.  If we are not willing to change, this information brings defensiveness on our part and our hearts are hardened.  This is true even when we are speaking with another person.  If they tell us our behavior needs to change to be in harmony with truth and righteousness, and we are willing to change it, we will welcome the information, begin to make the changes and repent.  If however, we are not open to change, or do not want to change, this information feels like an attack.  We throw up our defenses and probably attack the messenger—–like Laman and Lemuel always seeking to take away Nephi’s life.

There is a question I suppose of whether we are willing to make the changes because our hearts are soft or whether the willingness to change softens our hearts.  With the two examples above, it seems obvious that their recognition of wrong, precedes their changes of heart.  In King Lamoni’s instance, there is no one telling him that he is wrong.  He wonders if he is, and then his heart is open to the response.  With King Lamoni’s father however, Ammon and Lamoni are telling him he is wrong.  He disagrees with them, enough to want to kill Ammon and remove his son as a leader.  Only when he is going to lose his life and Ammon is meek in his requests does King Lamoni’s father’s heart change. 

Then of course, there is Alma….both the Older and the Younger, who have changes of heart.  Alma the younger sees an angel who says, look, you are not doing the right things and even if you choose to lose your own soul, you have to quit dragging others with you.  Stop bad-mouthing the church, basically.

Alma the younger also says that his father’s heart was changed, in v. 13 of chapter 5 (Alma), according to his faith.  Alma the Elder hears the words, reflects on his behavior, recognizes his sins and exercises his faith unto repentance.

Enos’ experience is similar.  The words of his father Jacob sink deep into his heart and his desires change. He desires to know his standing before God.

But is it any wonder that we teach repentance as one of the first principles of the gospel??  Repentance is recognizing that we have done, said, thought, or felt something wrong.  Then it is going through the efforts to make the changes necessary to correct that wrong.  That is where we exercise our faith.  But I think the change of heart happens first—the recognition of wrong and a willingness to change.  What do you think?  Is this making sense?

So then the application of this, for us, becomes what are we doing about making time and space to hear and feel the words of the Lord so we can recognize where in our lives we need to make changes?  If we are too busy for church, too busy for scripture study, too busy for prayers, the radio is on in the car, our ear phones are plugged in when we are going somewhere or exercising, and we always have our phone on playing music, texting, face-booking, or playing candy crush or farming games, when can the Lord speak to us?  And how on earth would we hear him anyway??

We have to make time for Him in our lives so we can hear the messages that will bring those changes of heart to us, those we love, and to the lives we live.  Peace and happiness come from knowing that our lives are in harmony with truth and right.  We can only put our lives in that kind of order if the Lord has the opportunity to let us know when our lives are out of balance in any direction.

So will you put some time aside for Him?  It doesn’t have to be long—-about 30 minutes a day works for me.  But I need it to be quiet so that I can hear that still small voice whisper to my heart, hey…..you may need to make some changes…….here………and here…………………..and here.  Then I have to have the faith to make those changes.  Thankfully, He doesn’t expect me to do it alone.   He’ll be right there beside me, helping me make the change.

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