“Being a good listener” is not a trait we are born with. We have to actively think about it, and be aware of our tendencies to passively dismiss what we are hearing. It demands practice, and and active desire to develop this lifesaving trait.
Several years ago, there was a funny Youtube video that went viral. It was a clip of a little 3-year-old boy arguing with his mother. Apparently, in his understandable overexcitement to pursue the immediate, instant, and pure gratification that would undoubtedly come via grandma’s cupcakes, he ran into a Momma roadblock. He then tried to convince momma that there should be no roadblock to confectionary bliss.
Like most three year olds, he selectively un-heard (an actual inherited genetic trait common in males) his mother’s directions to not eat, or go after said cupcakes.
When caught, he spun an impressively articulated tale, well-steeped in lawyerly gobbledygook, lasting almost three minutes in a hopeless attempt to justify, argue, spin, deflect, and rewrite history. This was his attempt to prove to his mother that he, 3-year-old Matteo, somehow was right, and that he didn’t really have to listen.
Again, actively listening is not a trait we are born with, but one we have to develop.
One of my new favorite examples in the scriptures that perfectly illustrates what it means to really listen, and how our lives may depend on it, is in the new testament. This story is also one of the last discourses that the Savior would deliver before his crucifixion.
On this particular day, the Lord was with his disciples and they were all climbing the Mount of Olives that rises directly across from, and in perfect view of the majesty of the Temple Mount. King Herod’s imposing temple crowned that sacred space and stood magnificently above the city.
The disciples, looking back at this impressive view, commented on the beauty and grandeur of the city, its buildings, and its massive temple centerpiece.
“Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” (Mark 13:1)
This comment spurred the following prophecy from the Savior…
“Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2)
It is probably safe to say that this was not the comment that the disciples were expecting. There may have even been a few blank stares. After all, the temple had recently completed a 46 year rebuilding effort initiated by King Herod. It was adorned with special white stone that gleamed brightly in the ample sun. It was crested and decorated with gold donated from Jews throughout the land, and symbolized the wealth, power, and strength of the Jews.
The disciples then posed the obvious follow up question to Jesus…
“Tell us when shall these things be which thou hast said concerning the destruction of the temple, and the Jews;
Jesus’ recorded answers to this and other questions are now known as the Olivet discourse. We read it, or portions of it, in Mathew 24 (improved in clarity in JST-Mathew), Mark 13, Luke 21, and even more recently referred to by the Lord in Doctrine and Covenants section 45.
Today, mostly because we have the benefit of hindsight and recorded history, I’d like to focus on the answer to this first question, and what lessons we can glean from it, specifically about developing our listening skills.
His answer to “when shall these things be?” was simple..
“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. (Luke 21:20)
And they [the Jews] shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24)
Mathew described Jesus’ answer a bit differently noting Jesus’ reference to an even earlier prophecy…
“When you, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, then you shall stand in the holy place…
Then let them who are in Judea flee into the mountains;
Let him who is on the housetop flee, and not return to take anything out of his house; Neither let him who is in the field return back to take his clothes;” (JST Mathew 1:12-15)
The Lord stated as plain as could be, what would happen to Jerusalem, and her people. AND, even more importantly what to do, and when to do it, to stay safe- When the armies come, head for the hills, and don’t look back.
I imagine that word spread. I’m sure in the A.D. 33 version of the Ensign, or LDSnewsroom, twitter, Instagram and Youtube, that the specifics of the prophecy spoken by the living Prophet, were taught, discussed, and written down.
So how did this prophecy play out? Was anyone listening? Did the early Saints heed the warnings of the prophet and prepare? Or did they argue like little Matteo that the cupcakes really weren’t off limits?
If we fast forward to a few years after Jesus’ crucifixion, the tension between the occupying Romans, and the citizens of Judea increased. Citizen rebels tried to fight back, and attacked two Romans fortresses. The Romans responded forcefully and released their soldiers on those in Caesarea and killed about 20,000 jewish citizens. It then quickly escalated into a full blown war.
After an abandoned earlier attempt at a siege of Jerusalem with a single legion, Flavius Vespasian and his son Titus returned the next spring with and entire army of 60,000 Roman soldiers. They took two and a half years methodically destroying their way back towards Jerusalem.
Once there, Titus surrounded the city and commenced another three-year siege of Jerusalem. It was horrible. Rampant starvation, death, and disease filled the streets. Dead bodies were left to fester piled upon each other in buildings, the smell of death and rot was unbreathable. No one within the city could escape. Those who tried were crucified outside the city walls for all to see.
On sept 26 AD 70 Titus breached the walls of Jerusalem destroying everything and everyone. Men, women, and children were slaughtered. Josephus, an historian, recorded that 1.1 million jews, or 90% of the population, were killed. The remaining 10% were sold into slavery.
Titus then ordered that everything on the temple mount be completely leveled, so the jews would not be compelled to try and reclaim their holy place.
Thirty seven years after Jesus’ prophecy, it had all been fulfilled.
So, again the question is, did anyone make it out alive? Were any members of the primitive church able to escape and “flee into the mountains” as the prophecy dictated? Was anyone prepared? Had any group of members been watching, listening, and recognizing the signs, in order to act on the words of the prophets?
In AD 325 the early Christian historian Eusebius wrote
“The members of the Jerusalem church by means of an oracle [something spoken through revelation or inspiration] given by revelation to acceptable persons there, were ordered to leave the city before the war began and settle in a town in peraea called pella” [Eusebius, Book III, 5:4]
A hundred years later, another historian recorded:
[There was an] exodus from Jerusalem when all the disciples went to live in Pella because Christ had told them to leave Jerusalem and to go away since it would undergo a siege. Because of their advice they lived in Perea … (Epiphanius, Panarion, 29, 7, 7-8)
There was indeed a happy ending for those who had truly listened, followed through, and acted on the warnings of the Lord and his prophets.
As we contemplate the importance of becoming better listeners, let’s examine just the first 16 verses of the 45th section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Remember, this is the same section in which the Lord references this very same prophetic moment from the Mount of Olives he shared with his disciples 1800 years before…
“Hearken, O ye people of my church, to whom the kingdom has been given; hearken ye and give ear to him who laid the foundation of the earth…
And again I say, hearken unto my voice, lest death shall overtake you;…
Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father…
Hearken, O ye people of my church, and ye elders listen together, and hear my voice while it is called today and harden not your hearts;…
Wherefore, hearken ye together and let me show unto you even my wisdom—…
Wherefore, hearken and I will reason with you, and I will speak unto you and prophesy, as unto men in days of old.
And I will show it plainly as I showed it unto my disciples as I stood before them in the flesh… (Doctrine and Covenants 45:1-16)
Even those of us who suffer with the genetic impairment of selective hearing can pick up on those hints. I think we are being invited to listen. Remembering also, that…
“…whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38)
We need to be much better at listening to the Lord, his words, the words of his servants, and his Spirit. Through his prophets, the Lord will tell us what to do, where to be, how to be, and when to be there so that we can be safe.
Prophets instruct us, teach us, and inspire us to be prepared. This is the necessary action that is almost always associated with listening to prophetic warnings.
Our preparation, however, is not just stuffing away a year’s supply of whole wheat buckets, canned beets, powdered milk, and 50 pound sacks of beans. It is also referencing the necessary spiritual preparation.
Being spiritually prepared enables us to have the courage to “… not return to take anything out of [our] house;” as we, “flee into the mountains” (JST Mathew 1:12-15).
I imagine that if the Prophet made a special YouTube video asking us to drop everything we were doing, and head to Missouri for an emergency general conference with some “special guests”, most of us would head out immediately.
But, what if that same prophet said it was time to work on our daily scripture study? What if that same prophet asked us to be better at prayer, being thankful, or developing a better testimony? What if he asked us to be more spiritually self-reliant, teach the gospel to our families in our own homes, be better ministers, and to develop an increased capability to “hear him”? Would we be just as willing and committed to do those things?
These are the true tests of our listening skills. These are our opportunities to really prepare, and thus eliminate the fear of the unknown from our lives. Especially when we know there are “bumpy” times ahead.
Catie has often told our kids, from the time they were little that, “…If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:30) and she is exactly right.
We may not have physical armies compassed about and threatening us, but we most certainly have the desolation of abomination that is gathering outside ourselves, our homes, and our communities. It is everywhere. It’s in our media, language, merchandise, fashion, and often taught in our schools. Increasing political unrest dominates the news cycle, along with a constant drumbeat of societal pressures to accept sinful behavior as normal. Economic strains, along with increasing health concerns from a world wide pandemic are prevalent throughout the whole world. Cumulative stresses brought about by all these things together may indeed make us feel like we are being compassed about by threatening armies.
We may not currently face impending physical threats posed by the invading armies of Titus, but, does it not feel like our families are under threat of a growing spiritual siege?
Just as the prophetic warnings from Jesus given way back in AD 33 prompted earlier saints, we can also “flee into the mountains” today. We simply need to listen to our Prophet and find safety in not only listening, but acting on his words. Once we divert our focus away from the chaos, instability and stress that flourish out in the world, and focus on the peaceful simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ with those around us that share our hope and faith, we feel different. But, this peace can only come through listening to, and living within the safety of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let us all forget the worldly cupcakes and their fools gold promise of instant satiety, and improve our capacity to listen, to hear, and act. When we do so, we will enjoy the eternal fruits, and living water that come through living the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If we look a bit more closely at the many topics in the last general conference, we can start to see themes. These are our prophets today, are we really listening to them? Are we actively trying to follow their direction and council? Are we listening with a purpose to change ourselves, our habits, and our character?
Bishop Wadell said: “…in an ever-changing world, we must prepare for uncertainties. Even with better days ahead, we know that the temporal peaks and valleys of mortality will continue. As we seek to become temporally prepared, we can face the trials of life with increased confidence, peace in our hearts, and like Joseph in Egypt, we will be able to say, even in stressful circumstances, “There was bread.”
President Nelson: “How are we to deal with both the somber prophecies and the glorious pronouncements about our day? The Lord told us how with simple, but stunning, reassurance: “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.”