Jonathan Seiter is a pretty normal guy. He is a husband, father, and life-long member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He grew up in Tempe, Arizona and served a mission in Cebu, Philippines. He met his wife at and graduated from Brigham Young University with a masters in Accounting. Jon has spent most of his career leading marketing for software companies. He currently consults businesses on product management and product marketing. Jon has served in various callings in the Church, ranging from elders quorum president to nursery leader (his favorite). He is currently serving as the bishop in one of the best wards in the Church, just outside of Kansas City, Kansas.
As a leader, I have stumbled upon a framework/gospel perspective that has really helped me connect with people as a bishop.
We generally talk about the plan of salvation (our path back to return to the presence of God) in terms of what we need to do (faith, repentance, baptism, confirmation, etc.). This is all really important. I have also found that talking about what we need to become is equally instructive. I do this through how our hearts need to change/progress. I use five different hearts to illustrate how our hearts need to change. As I have used these five hearts to discuss our progress to return to live with our Father in Heaven, the Lord has taught me a lot and my teaching has evolved as I have studied more about this process. I could even geek out and layer in how the doctrine of Christ helps us through this process of becoming.
I’ve used this perspective/framework in asking the youth and adults where they are in their journey and what they think they need to do to progress. It has also helped me personally better understand the atonement, and how I can be a better disciple of Jesus Christ.
When discussing the gospel, we often focus on the actions we need to take, which helps us identify our next steps and guide us towards God. From a high level, these discussions often revolve around the covenant path and the saving ordinances we must participate in—baptism, confirmation, receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood, the endowment, and temple sealing. Equally important is our regular participation in the sacrament to renew our covenants.
Return to God’s Presence
However, when we solely concentrate on the ordinances, we can sometimes overlook their intended transformative power—to help us become like our Father in Heaven.
If our purpose in this life is to prepare to return to God’s presence and become like Him, we should periodically evaluate how we are doing on this journey. If our only measure of how we are doing on this journey is whether we have received all of the saving ordinances, then many of us will have checked all the boxes by the time we get married in our twenties.
The Lord Looketh upon the Heart
Instead, we should judge ourselves by how the Lord sees us. He doesn’t look on our outward appearance or even our deeds, but he looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Viewing our progress in terms of our heart can be another helpful lens to view ourselves and to help others progress in their own individual journeys.
We are all born with hard hearts. A hard heart resists correction, instruction, and limitations. A hard heart is a form of rebellion against God. We typically think we know better or simply don’t want to comply with God’s laws (Alma 37:10). Having a hard heart limits our ability to feel the Holy Ghost (2 Nephi 33:2) and recognize truth (Alma 12:10). The hard part (Bad dad pun intended) with having a hard heart is that we are usually blind to it (Mosiah 11:29). Not only is our judgement clouded, but we don’t even realize it (D&C 45:29).
One of the significant purposes of this life is to overcome and transform our hard hearts. Binding ourselves to Christ through covenants allows us to change and be changed by the atonement of Jesus Christ. Although each journey is unique, there is typically a specific order in which our hearts are changed, along with qualities we must adopt.
The Lord can’t do much with us when we are hard hearted. However, when cracks in that hard heart begin to form and widen, we begin to see things more clearly and we become more teachable. This process is commonly referred to in the scriptures as having a broken heart and contrite spirit (Psalm 34:18). Contrite is defined as “feeling or showing sorrow and remorse for improper or objectionable behavior, actions, etc.” (Merriam Webster Dictionary).
It is when we begin to feel remorse for our sins that we are able to change. Our eyes are able to see more clearly. We are able to see how our sins have affected us and others. This leads to greater humility, and we are better able to recognize and feel the Holy Ghost.
God wants us to be His people. Although He won’t force us, He, in His loving kindness, allows us to experience trials and tribulations that help us become humble and turn to Him. The scriptures (especially the Old Testament) are filled with warnings from the Lord and stories of the terrible consequences when those warnings are not heeded. God takes no pleasure in inflicting trials upon us, but He does find joy when we turn to Him (Ezekiel 33:11).
When our hearts are broken and contrite, we are ready to change our ways. Our hearts naturally turn to the Savior for peace and healing. While there is not a single reference to a “turned heart” in the scriptures, this concept is repeated over and over again. Turning our hearts to Christ is part of the repentance process. A turned heart is a repentant heart.
I find this symbolism of turning immensely instructive. When we repent, we are turning to God. Repentance is not just stopping a particular sin, it “denotes a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world… Repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined.” (Bible Dictionary definition of Repentance).
As we turn our hearts over to Christ and are cleansed from our sins, the Lord will make something of us that we could never achieve on our own. He promises,
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
The Lord will give us a new heart or new desires. This concept is also referred to in the scriptures as being born again.
“And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.” (Mosiah 27:25-26)
Joseph Smith said that
“Being born again, comes by the spirit of God through ordinances.” (Teachings of Prophet Joseph Smith, 162)
This rings so true to me. It is the Holy Ghost that guides and directs us. It is through the Holy Ghost that the Lord will prompt us to be his hands, to lay aside our natural man/woman desires and put our hands to work for Him.
As we heed the promptings we receive from the Holy Ghost, our hearts become pure. Slowly but surely, we become one with God. This happens as we act; as we align our wills with God’s will. Elder John H. Groberg described the process this way:
“We simply must work harder at purifying our lives by serving others in more Christlike ways. Noble service requires hard work, deep sacrifice, and complete unselfishness. The more the sacrifice, the greater the resultant purity.”
This process is also referred to in the scriptures as being sanctified.
“And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you” (D&C 88:67-68)
One of my favorite scriptures is Psalms 24:3-4:
“Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart;”
Our goal is to stand with God, to be in His presence, and ultimately become like Him. As we achieve a turned heart, we are cleansed through the atonement of Jesus Christ; our hearts become clean. As we continue to rely upon Christ’s grace and mercy, he will make our “weak things become strong” (Ether 12:27). It is through the enabling power of the atonement of Jesus Christ that our hearts are changed, and we will thirst and hunger after righteousness (Matthew 5:6). It is then with clean hands and pure hearts that we will glorify God as we enter in his presence.
If I were to choose a single word to describe our progress towards the goal of becoming like God, regardless of where we are on our journey, it would be “obedience.” God’s work and glory is to bring about our immortality and eternal life. (Moses 1:39). The work God has given us to do is simply “to keep my commandments, yea, with all your might, mind and strength” (D&C 11:20). In the early stages of our journey, obedience should focus on God’s commandments found in the scriptures and given through modern-day prophets. However, as we progress spiritually, the focus of our obedience will change from following God’s universal commandments to following the personal commands God gives to us through the Holy Ghost.
Sometimes these promptings may inspire us to be more obedient to a commandment. Other times, we will receive a prompting to reach out to someone we haven’t talked to in a while, or to do some other small act for God. These promptings will always bless us and will often bless others as well.
While our actions are crucial, their significance lies in how they shape our character and transform us. Viewing my progress from this perspective of my heart has helped me. It is not quite as simple as the linear steps I have outlined. However, reflecting on where I am at and what I need to do to progress has helped me become a better disciple of Christ.
Outlining how our hearts change has been a great way for me to understand where people are in their journey. Whether they are a youth, long-time member, or someone who has recently confessed a sin. It has provided a simple outline of what is next and what to look forward to.