25 And now Abinadi said unto them: Are you priests, and pretend to teach this people, and to understand the spirit of prophesying, and yet desire to know of me what these things mean?
29 And again he said unto them: If ye teach the law of Moses why do ye not keep it? Why do ye set your hearts upon riches? Why do ye commit whoredoms and spendyour strength with harlots, yea, and cause this people to commit sin, that the Lord has cause to send me to prophesy against this people, yea, even a great evil against this people?
In our modern society, we think about understanding and knowledge as primarily being pursuits of the mind. We believe that knowledge comes through study and reason. Of course, there is truth to this. We need to study in order to come to know things. We cannot put off the hard work of study and expect to miraculously know.
But when it comes to the things of God, understanding is primarily a pursuit of the heart. Abinadi points out that the Priests of Noah had not applied their hearts to truly understanding the word of God. Instead, their hearts were set on the things of the world. They were seeking riches, praise, and carnal pleasure. And so, the things of God were a mystery to them. They could not truly come to understand because they did not desire understanding with their whole heart.
Elder Bednar has written frequently on this theme and further develops the link between understanding and the heart:
“I find it most interesting in these and many other verses that understanding is linked primarily to the heart. Note that we are not explicitly counseled to apply our minds to understanding. Obviously, we must use our minds and our rational capacity to obtain and evaluate information and to reach appropriate conclusions and judgments. But perhaps the scriptures are suggesting to us that reason and “the arm of flesh” (D&C 1:19) are not sufficient to produce true understanding. Thus, understanding, as the word is used in the scriptures, does not refer solely or even primarily to intellectual or cognitive comprehension. Rather, understanding occurs when what we know in our minds is confirmed as true in our hearts by the witness of the Holy Ghost.
The spiritual gift of revelation most typically operates as thoughts and feelings put into our minds and hearts by the Holy Ghost (see D&C 8:2–3, 100:5–8). And as testimony and conviction move from our heads to our hearts, we no longer just have information or knowledge—but we begin to understand and seek after the mighty change of heart.”
Seeking understanding with our heart is a prerequisite to the mighty change of heart that we all must seek. When the paradigms and ways of thinking of the world get in the way of truly understanding God’s will, we must make a conscious and prayerful effort to seek learning by study and by faith. We must ask the Holy Ghost to give us new eyes to see and ears to hear. We must ask for an understanding heart.
As Elder Bednar again explained this process in another devotional: “As described in the scriptures, we use our hearts and the process of revelation to obtain a confirming spiritual witness concerning the truth of what we have come to know. In and through our hearts the Holy Ghost certifies more completely and helps us to feel deeply the truth of what we have come to know intellectually. Understanding grows out of knowledge that is certified as true by the Holy Ghost and produces an illumination, a comprehension, a perspective, and a depth of desire and commitment not obtainable through reason alone. As President Harold B. Lee frequently taught, ‘When your heart begins to tell you things that your mind does not know, then you are getting the spirit of the Lord'”.