Michael D. Brown: Having a healthy spiritual heart

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Michael D. Brown, a professor of physiology and developmental biology at BYU, advised students to assess the spiritual health of their hearts by asking themselves five questions at Tuesday’s Devotional on March 31.

Brown likened the functionality of the human heart to that of one’s spiritual well being. The physical heart provides nourishment for the body, but the spiritual heart is what strengthens the spirit by prompting one to serve, Brown said. However, the heart must be reliable and strong to enable one to live a spiritually stable life. 

“How is your heart doing?” Brown asked. “Spiritually speaking, is it beating regularly, or is it skipping beats? Is it beating strongly, or is it weak and thready?”

Brown said everyone needs to make sure their hearts are working properly, physically and spiritually. He proceeded to outline five questions one can ask to perform a thorough self check-up.

A pure heart

“First, we can ask ourselves, ‘Is my heart pure?’” Brown said. “It’s not easy to keep our hands clean and our hearts pure. The sins of the world are numerous and ever present. It takes vigilance. It takes foresight. It takes courage.”

Brown explained that a large part of keeping one’s heart pure is staying away from sexual sins, which lead to spiritual heart failure. He relayed a warning Elder Oaks gave in 2005: “Do all you can to avoid pornography. If you ever find yourself in its presence — which can happen to anyone in the world in which we live — follow the example of Joseph of Egypt. When temptation caught him in her grip, he left temptation and ‘got him out.’”

Repentance is always available because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, as taught by Alma in the Book of Mormon. Brown added his testimony to Alma’s. Even the most serious of sins can be washed away through the Lord, and one can find the most “exquisite and sweet” joy.

A soft heart

The second question deals with humility and submitting to the will of the Lord: “Is my heart soft?”

Brown shared one of the countless examples of Nephi’s obedience to the Lord when he was willing to build a boat even though he didn’t know how.

Brown suggested looking at the extent of obedience shown toward BYU’s Honor Code. “Softhearted individuals are willing to submit themselves to all aspects of the Honor Code, even those portions that they do not agree with or understand,” Brown said.

That same mindset stands true for all of the commandments the Lord has given. The Lord will lead and guide his children when they choose to be humble, and he will strengthen them to continue to be better, Brown said.

A grateful heart

In a continued evaluation of the health of the heart, one can ask, “Do I have a grateful heart?”

When Brown was a young married student he suffered from lack of time and money. One Thanksgiving holiday he was looking forward to a homemade feast and time to relax.

To his disappointment the meal did not go according to plan, and he ended up driving to town to eat Arby’s and wallow in his self-pity, he said. As the sun began to set and the earth around him changed colors he began seeing things in a different and more positive light. He was overwhelmed with the spirit of gratitude.

“Suddenly and unexpectedly … the Holy Ghost witnessed to me how incredibly blessed I really was,” Brown said. “I learned to stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I learned to accentuate the positive and look more deeply for the good. I learned the importance of having a grateful heart in any circumstance.”

An obedient heart

Another question to ask is, “Do I have an obedient heart?”

Hardships and trials are part of life. Many students question what their future will be like. When Brown was a graduate student he was struggling to find a job in the “nonexistent job market,” he said.

While at a conference in San Francisco, Brown ran into a beloved BYU professor and asked for advice about his job. “He looked at me straight in the eye and said, ‘Mike, the best way to prepare for the future is to live by your covenants,’” Brown said.

The Lord has promised to support and direct his children who follow him, Brown said. “An obedient heart tethers our will to the Lord’s and allows us to draw upon the powers of heaven as we walk through life,” he said.

Of one heart

The final question Brown asked was, “Are we, as individuals, families and neighbors, of one heart?”

Brown said we remember to serve and love others. Jesus Christ taught his disciples to be one with another. Brown shared the teachings of President Hinckley about how to become of one heart.

“If we are to build that Zion of which the prophets have spoken and of which the Lord has given mighty promise, we must set aside our consuming selfishness,” President Hinckley said. “We must rise above our love for comfort and ease, and in the very process of effort and struggle, even in our extremity, we shall become better acquainted with out God.”

An honest assessment

Brown closed with his testimony of the Lord’s Atonement and love for all of his children. The Lord is pleased when his children are obedient, and he will prompt them with the Spirit to do that which is right, Brown said.

“As the Lord looks on each of our individual hearts, I pray that he will be pleased with what he sees. I pray that he will pour out his blessings upon us as we strive to become more like him in thought, word and deed,” Brown said.

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