The Lord looketh on the heart

In a recent stake conference, a counselor in the mission presidency gave a powerful talk about looking on the heart, and not someone’s outward appearance.

As a member of the mission presidency, he is often called on to do follow-up interviews before someone is baptized. When he walked into the room for the interview, he saw a young man covered in tattoos and body piercings.

Gazing upon this young man, he said a silent prayer in his heart, “Lord, help me to see in him  what thou seest in Him.”

The interview commenced and the young man showed himself to be worthy and ready for baptism. Prior to completing the interview, the counselor told the young man that he held no ecclesiastical authority as a member of the mission presidency, but offered words of counsel on matters of appearance and dress.

He spoke to the young man about how Latter-Day Saints normally dressed and presented themselves on Sunday, and during the week.  He offered words of counsel on the piercings this young man wore, and reminded the young man that it was ultimately his choice.

The interview ended and the two parted ways.

Several months later, while working in the baptistry of the Mesa Arizona Temple, the two met  while the counselor was serving as recorder, and the young man as proxy for the dead.

This young man had listened to the counsel received during his baptismal interview, and had removed his piercings. As the counselor looked upon this young man, he could see the obvious outward changes, but could also see his countenance and what the Lord saw in this young man’s heart.

I so love the counsel offered in the Bible:

But the Lord said unto Samuel, 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.

1 Samuel 16:7

I pray that we as Latter-Day Saints will look upon others not as man seeth, but look upon their hearts, as the Lord does. Do not be afraid or hesitant to invite others to come unto Christ simply because of their outward appearance. May we ever have the same prayer in our hearts as this counselor did as we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our neighbors. You will be amazed at what you will see.

18 thoughts on “The Lord looketh on the heart

  1. After reading this post, I am left in a quandry. The scripture you have used to support your topic of choice and uplifting story seems, to me, to support the OPPOSITE view of the point I am hearing from you. (I say this for the sake of discussion and hope I have worded my question in a respectful way. I earnestly want to understand why you would choose this particular scripture for the point you seem to be trying to make.)

    When I read I Sam 16:7 I understand it to say that the Lord seeth “not as man seeth”, meaning that men with human eyes see the earrings, clothing, etc, the outer shell. The Lord rather looks PAST the outward appearance and “looketh upon the heart”, the important things.

    To me, this means that the Lord places greater value on this young man’s feelings, thoughts, intentions and behavior.

    For me, it is similar to a pearl. You can coat that pearl with mud, or wrap it in a modest piece of clothing, or encrust it with diamonds — the Lord will still see the value of the pearl within.

    Why then at the end of your story should the removal of earrings matter? Afterall, the Lord is looking on this young man’s heart. Why do we, as mere humans, care what his outward appearance is?

    Shouldn’t the happy ending of your story simply be: that this young man was working in the temple of the Lord? rather than working in the temple of the Lord without earrings?

    I think I understand the point you are making, but your choice of supportive scripture seems to say the opposite of your point.

    I hope I have worded my thoughts respectfully…

  2. Ann, I appreciate your comments and thoughts. I respect your opinion and appreciate the thoughtful way in which you expressed it relative to my post.

    I certainly did not present the story as eloquently as the original speaker did, so I regret that some of the key elements may have been missed.

    To your point, I offer a brief selection from the counsel given by President Gordon B. Hinckley to the youth in his talk,

  3. I have pondered this subject for many years. During my years as bishop, two of my teenage sons were in their “blue hair” period (well, blue and green and red (not auburn, but bright red). I struggled to see my sons as God saw them, just as this MP counselor did.

    That the young man in the story chose to conform is not necessarily a suggestion that the outward appearance is more important, but that the young man’s heart may have led him to wanting to be more like those with whom he worshipped.

    Those grooming and dress items are probably not for the Lord but for the rest of us. The verses in Samuel state the fact that we do judge the outward appearance, and I believe (and it’s only my belief) that any concentration on those things is more for fellow worshipers than for the Lord. It does not diminish its value, however.

  4. Great insights, Paul. You reminded me of an experience I had while serving in an Elder’s quorum presidency. I happened to be teaching the lesson with an investigator attending our meeting. He had a rough outward appearance and I wondered if I was getting through to him. Overcoming my fear and the initial judgement about the man based on his appearance, I approached him after the meeting. He looked me in the eye and said that he was impressed with what he had heard. What a life-changing moment that was for me.

    This man is now one of my best friends and my former home teaching companion. He is a solid and faithful Latter-Day Saint and I am pleased to count him as a friend. I am thankful that I did not let my initial thoughts cloud my actions.

  5. Ann, yes, the Lord sees the pearl inside. But He still wants us to clean off the mud, not leave it on.

  6. I wasn’t clear… I am a member of the church. I just don’t understand how you start with a scripture about how the Lord sees us and then equate it to new rules on how we should dress. The two things oppose each other.

    Your Alma scripture supports your I Samuel scripture… that the Lord looks upon the heart. I believe this. He doesn’t care about mud. He doesn’t care about diamonds. He cares about the pearl INSIDE.

    Both of your scripture examples speak to me that Heavenly Father cares about my heart (the things about me that cannot be seen with human eyes: my thoughts, my intentions, my behavior, my charity, my feelings.)

    I’m wondering if this is one of those situations where we as members are to determine whether the prophet is speaking as a prophet, or speaking as a man — because to me it seems that your quote from GBH is the exact opposite of your scriptural quotes. The Alma and I Samuel scriptures say that Heavenly Father looks upon the heart, but GBH says “you young men LOOK BETTER without them [earrings]”. He’s LOOKING with his human eyes, otherwise he wouldn’t even see or care about those superficial earrings. Right?

    I’m just wondering. I don’t see that your scripture quotes and your prophet quotes support each other.

  7. “the things about me that cannot be seen with human eyes: my thoughts, my intentions, my behavior, my charity, my feelings”

    True. So why are we so obsessed about how we look? Why do we find it desirable to mutilate our bodies with tattoos and piercings? Why are we obsessed with fashionable wardrobes? If the Lord does not care about these things and his greatest desire is for us to follow him, lay hold upon the strengthening and cleansing power of the atonement and become as he is; then why do we pre-occupy our time and decorate our bodies with things he views as essentially worthless?

    I’ll just add that I think one can go to an extreme with costly suits and apparel just as one can go to an extreme in the opposite direction with their dress.

  8. Chris, I agree with all your points.

    I guess it makes me sad that the scriptures assume we will indeed experience a change of heart as we naturally mature in the gospel. Kinda like when my grandparents would say “Have you got your grown-up teeth yet?” knowing that sooner or later they would most certainly appear.

    I suppose I am slowly joining the ranks of members who are more than a little concerned at the church’s micromanagement of us members. As someone who does not live in the United States, it also feels like the church is trying to turn ‘American culture’ into ‘doctrine’. It seems strange to me that given the profound American influence on how Latter-day Saints should appear — meaning: no beard, white shirt and tie, skirts below the knees, one set of earrings on female earlobes, etc — is the acceptable poster-child for the “LDS image”.

    There seems to be consideration for other culture’s versions of “clean cut” — the maori’s tattoo their faces, some African nations scar, tattoo and pierce theirs, many many nations consider a beard on a man to be a highly-respected symbol of maturity and wisdom, an Indian man would wear a sherwani, I could go on and on.

    Instead of celebrating our differences, it seems we are being slowly funnelled into all wearing the same ‘LDS uniform’.

    I hope I worded this respectfully… I’m just saying how I feel.

  9. Correction: there seems to be no consideration for other culture’s versions of “clean cut”.

  10. Ann,
    My thought is that another culture does it, does not make it good. Naturally the same is true for American culture. When you say you see “American culture” creeping in, at least if you see it from the leadership of the church I would suggest perhaps it’s your biases to what you perceive as “American culture” and causing you to dismiss it for reasons of your own. I’m not suggesting that various aspects found in American culture are not permeating the church, but there is a reason why the church was founded in America. Now, I’m not saying America is all great and it’s the best and that’s why the church is there. But various aspects of American culture were infused in the church’s foundings and I believe these were the Lord’s will. I’ve heard/read several apostles in different generations cite Isaiah 2:3 as applying to America – “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”

    I think “the law” can be both commandments as well as some of the civic laws which were enshrined in America’s constituion (note, all the ideas did not obviously originate from America, but rather America was the nation to attempt to live up to these consitutional principles)

    When it comes to white shirts, I don’t really have much of an issue with that one way or another. I have not seriously sought personal revelation on the matter and this makes me think I should.

    I completely agree it seems a bit unfair to ask someone to leave behind some aspect of their own treasured culture. But then again, I am 100% certain these individuals would be blessed even more so. Do you think the Lord would have them make a sacrifice and not reward them 10-fold spiritually (if that sacrifice was made in faith with an eye singled toward God)? I don’t. On the other hand, I think someone who wears a white shirt, etc. resentfully for decades is doing what Elder Uchtdorf reminded us not to do – living beneath the level the Lord wishes to bless us.

    At the end of it all, leaving behind some aspect of your culture to embrace the Lord shows where your priorities are. The Lord called us out of the world. I suppose you might say it would be nice if they didn’t have to leave anything behind. That would be nice. And it would be nice if we weren’t called to make thousands of difficult personal sacrifices whether we are members of the church or not. Coming to this world entails difficult trials. However, it’s my knowledge, born out of experience, that as we turn the trials life gives us into sacrifices upon the altars of our faith that the Lord will bless is immeasureably. The trials come either way.

  11. Ann…

    Elder Scott gave a talk a few years ago, I’m sorry I don’t know the exact Gen Conf it was in, about letting go of cultural traditions in favor of Gospel truths. The leadership of the church has given us standards and guidance, they are the leadership of the church 24/7, and when they speak it is as the Lord would have it be. I’m sorry you feel the Church is being “Americanized”, but I assure you it is not. Having served my full time mission in Bulgaria, where there are many cultural traditions, the members of the Church happily give them up for the Church and to be obeident to the council of the leaders.

    As memebers of Christ’s church we’ve been asked to set ourselves apart from the world, to be different and a peculiar people. That means we don’t participate in some culutral traditions, we have standards of grooming and dress. We need to put our best foot forward as Latter-day Saints, and part of that is not tatooing ourselves, not having more than one piercing for women and so on. I think the young man Brian referenced in this post was just doing that, being obeidient to counsel he was given by a church leader.

  12. Ann, you need to travel more. In Polynesia, good latter-day Saints wear Polynesian dress. In Guatemala, Indians wear traditional garb to church (very colorful). There are good reasons for the other areas of conformity, even if you don’t see them.

  13. >>>letting go of cultural traditions in favor of Gospel truths<<<

    But don't the scriptures, from the bible and the BOM, tell the plain truth: the Lord looks upon the heart. ?

    I still have this sinking feeling this latest earring/tattoo thing is one of those situations: is the prophet speaking as a prophet, or speaking as a man? (You know, like when General Authorities in the past have said things that for various reasons were either wrong, inappropriate, or mistaken. I remember a Relief Society lesson on this a few years' back, but because it hadn't touched my life I really didn't make note of the details. And I really didn't understand what the sisters were talking about… that a prophet can proclaim a revelation, and can also speak as an ordinary man. I always thought that whenever a prophet spoke that he was always speaking revelation.

    Given that this focus on physical appearances goes blatantly against what the scriptures (and my gut feeling) tell us, I have a strong feeling this is one of those situations.

    And Geoff, I have indeed travelled quite a bit around the world. I have attended church on other continents, and as I said, I don't even live in the U.S.A. I live in an extemely multicultural city of more than 5 million. Hence why *I* brought up my point about the beautiful tattoos of the maori people, etc, or 'outward' appearances that sound like they would be a no-no now.

    None of this sits well with me. I'm going to have to do more reseach so I can feel better about this… thank you all for your thoughts.

  14. “this focus on physical appearances goes blatantly against what the scriptures (and my gut feeling) tell us”

    My point was that you are correct in saying this. So why focus on your physical appearance with XYZ? I suppose you could trace the emphasis on dress to a de-emphasis on dress found in the scriptures. Paul talked about (not) adorning with jewelry, in the Book of Mormon we read of people in fine and costly apparel, Brigham Young encouraged time and time again for the people to be modest in their dress (in his day modest was basically un-extravagant). So some standards have been define for dress, and those standards are also based on certain principles.

    The fact is you have to wear something. But what you wear or how you decorate your body should not become a focus. That act itself demonstrates you are more concerned with appearances than what the Lord is concerned with — for as you point out, he looks on the heart.

    I agree it seems strange to say, “Why are you telling me how to dress if the Lord looks on the heart.” But the inverse is also true, that saying “I am going to follow the Lord and he tells me these things are not important, but I’m going to define my ‘individuality’ around them (clothes, fashion, tattoos, etc).”

    In one case someone is applying a certain standard of dress simply because you have to dress yourself with something. In the other case they are proclaiming that dress isn’t important to the Lord, but it’s important to them.

    I think the argument can go both ways, with both sides calling each other hypocrites, which is why in the end it comes down to what is in the heart of that individual. If it’s in their heart, it truly doesn’t matter what they wear or do, as long as what they wear or do is aligned with gospel principles.

  15. >>>I think the argument can go both ways, with both sides calling each other hypocrites, which is why in the end it comes down to what is in the heart of that individual. If it’s in their heart, it truly doesn’t matter what they wear or do, as long as what they wear or do is aligned with gospel principles.<<<

    I agree.

    Still, something about this just doesn't feel good to me.

    But thank you all for your responses.

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