Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Firm Mind

Our family motto is a scripture written by the Book of Mormon prophet, Jacob.

Jacob 3:2

O all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love; for ye may, if your minds are firm, forever.

Love is the desired object. The audience is the pure in heart, or Zion. There are many great words that could be written about the entire sermon which begins in chapter 2 and continues until 3:12. But this verse stands out to us because of Jacob's use of the words, "a firm mind."

The word, "firm," and its synonyms, immoveable, unshakeable, steadfast, and fixed, occur frequently throughout scripture, but to have a "firm mind" is unique to Jacob and then used again by Moroni in chapter 7:30. Jacob also uses the words, "firmness in the Spirit," in the last verse in chapter 4, right before he begins the lengthy allegory of the olive trees.

While we could probably agree on a good, religious definition of what a firm mind generally means, this is one area I would have liked to quiz Jacob on in person. Unfortunately, the prophets of ancient scripture don't always define every word, phrase, and verse, and time and language act as barriers to what was intended, so there is always a lot left to interpretation. I think most of us would agree, though, that to have a firm mind connotes integrity, strong character, diligence, and endurance. Since we probably have the correct definition of a firm mind, the more important question becomes, how exactly does one develop a firm mind?

Since I can't have a conversation with Jacob (unless there's an app for that), I will add a word we don't always hear in the church to what a firm mind might mean, and that is, "concentration," a skill I feel I lack. In Truman G. Madsen's, Joseph Smith the Prophet, he outlines how the power of concentration makes for more effective councils, but I think this can apply generally to the idea of developing this skill in a way that moves us a step toward a firm mind:

At a council of high priests and elders in Kirtland, the Prophet said: "No man is capable of judging a matter, in council, unless his own heart is pure…we frequently are so filled with prejudice, or have a beam in our own eye, that we are not capable of passing right decisions." Joseph continued: "In ancient days councils were conducted with such strict propriety, that no one was allowed to whisper, be weary, leave the room, or get uneasy in the least, until the voice of the Lord, by revelation, or the voice of the council by the Spirit was obtained, which has not been observed in this Church to the present time. It was understood in ancient days, that if one man could stay in council, another could; and if the president could spend his time, the members could also; but in our councils, generally, one will be uneasy, another asleep; one praying, another not; one's mind on the business of the council, and another thinking on something else." 1

The Prophet's reference to weariness is intriguing. Not allowed to be weary! How can one prevent weariness? Notice the assumption about the strength we will have if we will truly seek the Lord – even the strength to cope with weariness. This and the other human distractions common to Church meetings are preventable. The unity the Lord promised as a presupposition of his most powerful responses to prayer comes from that time of genuine concentration. His fellow Saints said that the Prophet Joseph Smith had immense power to concentrate on the topic at hand. 2

There is a book called, "The Power of Concentration," published in 1918 and now long out of print, that inspired me in this area some years back. Although out-dated it is available for free at and is a quick & easy read; an early 20th century self-help book.

Also, a July 1980 Ensign article on "The Strait Gate" which touches on the power of concentration.

I would write more but I need to concentrate on getting to sleep now, where I can dream of becoming one of the Sleep Elite, and therefore have more awake time to practice concentrating.


Frank said...

Thank you for sharing your insights into the use of the word firm. I was studying the account of the stripling warriors in Alma57:27. I was impressed by his statement that their minds were firm. As a parent I often find myself contemplating the stripling warriors and their traits. I found your comments most helpful in my understanding of the use firm. I also wonder if the word firm might also signify that their minds were not "hard" as in they were easy to be entreated as encouraged by Alma in Alma 7:23? Thank you again, Frank Layland

Dillon Bryan said...

Thanks for the insight, as Frank said, it was very helpful in my study of

Bonnie said...

So, to add to this wonderful discussion, if I may, this was addressed to those whose hearts were pure, but broken. Deep sorrow and loneliness, and the absence of love of a husband, pierced through them. Something that can happen is wives get stuck in worry, fight or flight, not feeling safe or secure, wondering what they could have done differently, how can they win back his affections, what can they do to fix the wreckage of their family? Over and over and over 5,000 different ways, again and again, just -stuck. This is a habit that literally carves microscopic neural pathways in the brain! So, it is the easiest thing to be freaking out about the future, and sorrowing the past, and missing any joy to be had in the present. The firmness of mind in this case, also may refer to absolutely, faithfully, tenaciously changing those thoughts, those habits, and eventually carving new neural pathways so at least the mind has a choice which way to think. The old negative pathway, like a deep riverbed, cannot be erased. It takes such a firm resolve, as I have experienced this all in my own life, that one almost must lay this habit on the alter of the Lord, and surrender it, and in faith, turn away from these sorrowful, discouraging, self doubting thoughts- with firmness of mind- to overcome these patterns. These wives were no doubt neglected, unloved, and in some cases abused. This incredible counsel Jacob offers them, with the FULL prophetic promises of consolation, and feasting upon God's miraculous, peace giving, healing love, is better than any earthly cure. Earth has no sorrow, truly, that Heaven cannot cure, but we must have firm minds, willing to refocus as many times as needed to "look into God." It is required that we "RECEIVE the pleasing word of God", and most heart broken are flat out hungry for it. This, Jacob offered these who needed healing and comfort so very much. Hope for me, in these verses, as I unfortunately find myself in these circumstances, was found in these verses while at the temple as a very direct answer to prayer!

Just a perspective of one who has lived it. I would humbly say that I have no way of judging if I am one pure in heart, but the Lord's promise is sure, and I am ready to practice some firmness of mind! Pray I may succeed? This will be extremely challenging.

Rob Douglas said...

I think Bonnie is on to something here. See Heb 12:3, Paul talks about perhaps the opposite of what Jacob was talking about, being wearied and faint in your minds. Both appear to use reference to minds during a time of affliction or trial, similar to the reference in relation to the Strippling Warriors in Alma 57:27.

Brian Smith said...

I really appreciated this blog. Particularly the quotes from the Truman Madsen book but also Bonnie's comments. While somewhat different from what she is referencing, I once had a job that was pretty stressful given the dynamics of the personalities in the office. I know this is pretty common in the work world. However, I found myself obsessing about what was going on at work even when I was at home with the family or at church. I carried it around during those years like a sack of rocks on my back. The fear of being fired for an arbitrary reason was always present in the back of my mind. I think the principles Bonnie lays out apply in that setting too. Thanks.