President Snow once closed a funeral address by asking the “Lord of Israel to bless the Latter-day Saints” to “be prepared for the events of the near future,” with their “hearts right before the Lord.” And, as we might expect from a man of sound integrity, he sought for this goal himself.
In the same speech, he told a story about he and Franklin D. Richards approaching Brigham Young with the sole purpose of resigning their Priesthood, if their president saw fit. As we also might expect, President Young didn’t see fit, but instead told them tearfully, “Brother Lorenzo, Brother Franklin, you have magnified your Priesthood satisfactorily to the Lord. God bless you.”
So what did Lorenzo Snow mean when he encouraged others (and himself) to have their “hearts right before the Lord”?
It might mean many things. One of which seems to be worthiness. But not just any kind of worthiness–worthiness before God (and in some special cases, God’s authorized servants). Another of which seems to be inwardness. Sometimes it is easy to show one face to the external world, while hiding very different feelings, attitudes, and behaviors within.
There are those among us who are recognized as members of this Church who take a vast amount of pains to be favorably known by those around them, but whose real character, or the inwardness so to speak, of such people, is veiled or disguised.
To me this also speaks of integrity, and honesty before oneself as well as before others. It is what lets us be “true men and true women,” and it is certainly what gives us the confidence to offer the Old Testament prayer, “Search me, O God and know my heart.* For Snow it also seems to be about character. Thus he encouraged the Latter-day Saints of his time to develop a “proper and well defined character,” before turning to scriptural examples of those who he believed fell along those lines. He pointed first to Moses, and then to Jonah.
I would also point to Hannah, who never stopped praying for the desire of her heart (even when it brought her to tears) and Esther who demonstrated massive amounts of courage. I would invite the women present to share stories from their lives of women and men with well developed characters. And then I would ask them what makes those individuals’ characters shine. What makes them admirable? And how do we try to emulate them in our own spheres and experiences?
Encouragingly, Snow reminds us that while “such traits of character as we find evinced in the ancient worthies are not the products of accident or chance, neither are they acquired in a day, a week, a month, or a year.” Instead, they are “gradual developments, the results of continued faithfulness to God and to truth.” Thus, while God does expect us to work on our character, integrity, and inwardness, we are not expected to be perfect right away. Nor are we expected to do it by ourself. It was important for Snow that “we, as Latter-day Saints…understand and bear in mind that salvation comes through the grace of God and through the development in us of those principles that governed those righteous people before mentioned (that is, Moses, et al.).”
Back to the inwardness/outwardness principle: “The idea is not to do good because of the praise of men [or women]; but to do good because in doing good we develop godliness within us.” Which brings me to two of my favorite scriptures. The first is in Samuel. “The Lord said unto [him], Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” The second is in Doctrine and Covenants section 137. “For I, the Lord, will judge all men [and women] according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.”
When we look at someone right now, we can’t see all of them. We can’t see the things that make them happy or the things that make them sad. Neither can we see their intentions or their desires. But God can. And when we are judged, those are among the primary things that God will look at.
Let’s have beautiful hearts. And loving hearts. And strong hearts. And brave hearts. And tender hearts. And firm hearts. And intelligent hearts. And every other good kind of heart. Not because we hope others will sense it somehow, or even because we know that God will, but because it is nice to have a nice heart, and will help make us a more Godlike people, a more Zion people–with one heart.
*This prayer was first offered by David, who Lorenzo Snow pointed out, may not have always been able to offer it with the same degree of consciousness and confidence. This may actually allow us to look more compassionately on others and on ourselves in times of struggle or lapsed confidence before God.