Lesson 32: Purity of Thought

Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part B, (2000), 265–71


The purpose of this lesson is to help us strengthen our commitment to have pure thoughts.

Introduction

President Spencer W. Kimball told the following fable to illustrate how pure thoughts and righteous living affect us:

“Lord George had led an evil life. He had been a drunkard, a gambler, and a cheat in business, and his face reflected the life he had led. It was a very evil face.

“One day he fell in love with a simple country girl to whom he proposed marriage. Jenny Mere told him that she could never marry a man whose face was so repulsive and so evil-looking; and also that when she did marry, she wanted a man with a saint-like face, which was the mirror of true love.

“Following a custom of the day, Lord George went down to Mr. Aeneas. … Aeneas made waxen masks for people, and his skill was so art-perfect that the person’s identity was completely hidden. … Aeneas went to his storeroom, selected a mask, heated it over a lamp, fixed it to Lord George’s face; and when Lord George looked in the glass, he had the face of a saint who loved dearly. So altered was his appearance that Jenny Mere was soon wooed and won.

“He bought a little cottage in the country, almost hidden in an arbor of roses, with a tiny garden spot. From then on his entire life changed. He became interested in nature; he found ‘sermons in stones, books in brooks, and good in everything.’ Formerly he was blasé and life had no interest for him; now, he was engrossed in kindliness, and the world around him.

“He was not content with starting life anew, but tried to make amends for the past. Through a confidential solicitor he restored his ill-gotten gains to those whom he had cheated. Each day brought new refinements to his character, more beautiful thoughts to his soul.

“By accident, his former companions discovered his identity. They visited him in his garden, and urged him to return to his old evil life. When he refused, he was attacked, and the mask was torn from his face.

“He hung his head. Here was the end of all; here was the end of his new-found life and his love dream. As he stood with bowed head, with the mask at his feet on the grass, his wife rushed across the garden and threw herself on her knees in front of him. When she looked up at him, what do you suppose she found? Line for line, feature for feature, the face was the same as that of the mask. Lines of beauty—regular features.”

President Kimball concluded the story, saying, “There is no doubt that the life one leads, and the thoughts one thinks are registered plainly in his face” (as quoted in Conference Report, Apr. 1975, 119–20; or Ensign, May 1975, 80–81).

Our Thoughts Lead to Actions

  • How do our thoughts affect our actions?

Our thoughts greatly influence our actions. If we think righteous thoughts, we will perform righteous acts. If we think evil thoughts, we will eventually commit the sins we have been thinking about.

President David O. McKay often spoke of the effect thoughts have on actions. On one occasion he said: “Thoughts are the seeds of acts, and precede them. … The Savior’s constant desire and effort were to implant in the mind right thoughts, pure motives, noble ideals, knowing full well that right words and actions would inevitably follow” (Stepping Stones to an Abundant Life, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay [1971], 206).

The son of a great prophet, Nephi sought to receive revelation, just like his father. His righteousness was rewarded, and he himself became the prophet for his people.

  • What did Nephi do that helped him be righteous?

Nephi gave us a clue to how he was able to live righteously when he wrote:

“For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.

“Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard” (2 Nephi 4:15–16).

President David O. McKay told the following story:

“Many years ago a young man came to me while I was president of the European Mission and made a confession of a wrong and sinful act. He justified himself by saying that he happened to be in a bookstore at the closing hour, and when the door was locked he yielded to temptation. He rather blamed the circumstances for his fall.

“But I said, ‘It wasn’t the circumstances; it wasn’t the locked door, nor the enticement. You had thought of that before you went to that bookstore. If you had never thought of that act, there would have been no circumstance strong enough to entice or to tempt you, a missionary, to fall. The thought always precedes the act’” (“Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness,” Instructor, Mar. 1965, 86).

James Allen once wrote:

“A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed-seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind.

“Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping it free from weeds, and growing the flowers and fruits which he requires, so may a man tend the garden of his mind, weeding out all the wrong, useless, and impure thoughts, and cultivating toward perfection the flowers and fruits of right, useful, and pure thoughts. By pursuing this process, a man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life. He also … understands, with ever-increasing accuracy, how the thought-forces and mind-elements operate in the shaping of his character, circumstances, and destiny” (As a Man Thinketh [1983], 15).

  • What must we do to have a garden that produces good foods and flowers? What have we done if our garden produces weeds?

  • What must we do to have a mind that leads us to good actions? What have we done if our mind leads us to evil or worthless actions?

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “If we are pondering in our hearts the things of righteousness, we shall become righteous” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1973, 56; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, 48). Said another way, “The Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell” (Alma 34:36). When we have pure thoughts, the Spirit of the Lord will be with us; and if we have the Holy Ghost with us, our lives will eventually be purified.

Keeping Thoughts Pure

It is not enough to keep our minds free from evil if we are to become like Christ. We have to keep our minds filled with righteous thoughts.

  • Have a class member read Philippians 4:8. What does Paul tell us to think about? (List the answers on the chalkboard. Answers could include whatever is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, or praiseworthy.)

Whenever we can, we should think about the truths of the gospel. One of the best ways to do this is to keep the promise we make when we partake of the sacrament: to always remember the Savior.

When President Spencer W. Kimball was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, he said: “When you look in the dictionary for the most important word, do you know what it is? It could be ‘remember.’ Because all of you have made covenants—you know what to do and you know how to do it—our greatest need is to remember. That is why everyone goes to sacrament meeting every Sabbath day—to take the sacrament and listen to the priests pray that they ‘… may always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them’” (Circles of Exaltation [address delivered at seminary and institute summer school, Brigham Young University, 28 June 1968], 8).

  • How can we always remember the Savior?

The great prophet Alma gave wise counsel to his son Helaman that could help us always remember the Savior.

  • Have a class member read Alma 37:35–37. How can directing our thoughts always to the Lord help us? (We can resist temptation and develop greater faith, obedience, hope, and love.) How can prayer help us keep our thoughts and actions pure?

Evil influences surround us in the world, and Satan uses them to try to influence us. However, we can do much to defeat him if we avoid listening to and reading or watching things that are evil. Elder J. Thomas Fyans clarified this principle by using the rivers of South America to illustrate how our thoughts are affected by what we read or see:

“One interesting feature about [the rivers of South America] is their different colors. The Madeira, for example, is called a white river because its waters carry fine clay particles along its course. The black color of the Rio Negro comes from decaying organic materials picked up in the forests through which it passes. Still other rivers flow over white sands and often appear emerald green or turquoise blue.

“Just as these rivers are colored by the substances picked up as they flow along, so the streams of our thoughts are colored by the material through which they are channeled” (in Conference Report, Buenos Aires Area Conference 1975, 28).

  • How is a mind like a river? (Just as a river is colored by what it touches, our minds are affected by what we read, see, or hear.)

  • What evil things does Satan use to try to influence our thoughts? (Pornography; immoral or immodest people; vulgar language; and certain types of music, dance, and entertainment)

We should avoid all things that will cause evil thoughts and destroy our spirituality. This is difficult because we live in a world filled with evil. When an immoral or wicked thought does enter our minds, we must banish it immediately.

Elder Boyd K. Packer explained one way we can fight against evil thoughts:

“The mind is like a stage—the curtain is always up except when we are asleep. There is always some act being performed on that stage. It may be a comedy, a tragedy, interesting or dull, good or bad; but always there is some act playing on the stage of the mind.

“Have you noticed that without any real intent on your part, in the middle of almost any performance, a shady little thought may creep in from the wings and attract your attention? …

“If you permit them to go on, all thoughts of any virtue will leave the stage. You will be left, because you consented to it, to the influence of unrighteous thoughts. If you yield to them, they will enact for you on the stage of your mind anything to the limits of your toleration. They may enact a theme of bitterness, jealousy, or hatred. They may be vulgar, immoral, or even depraved. …

“What do you do at a time like that? …

“I would teach you this. Choose from among the sacred music of the Church a favorite hymn, one with words that are uplifting and music that is reverent, one that makes you feel something akin to inspiration. Go over it carefully in your mind. Memorize it. Even though you have had no musical training, you can think through a hymn.

“Now, use this hymn as the place for your thoughts to go. Make it your emergency channel. Whenever you find that these shady actors have slipped from the sidelines of your thinking onto the stage of your mind, put on this record, as it were.

“As the music begins and as the words form in your mind, the unworthy thoughts will slip shamefully away. The hymn will change the whole mood on the stage of your mind. Because it is uplifting and clean, the baser thoughts will disappear, for while virtue, by choice, will not associate with filth, evil cannot tolerate the presence of light. …

“Once you learn to clear the stage of your mind from unworthy thoughts, keep it busy with learning worthwhile things. Change your environment so that you have things about you that will inspire good and uplifting thoughts. Keep busy with things that are righteous” (Teach Ye Diligently [1975], 46–47).

  • What else can we do to channel our thoughts? (Pray; recite an uplifting poem, scripture, or thought; or think about a sacred experience or place)

  • Why is it important to banish evil thoughts the moment they enter our minds?

We must cultivate clean, righteous thoughts if we are to experience true happiness. “Real happiness is not dependent on external things. … The kind of happiness that stays with you is the happiness that springs from inward thoughts and emotions. … You must cultivate your mind if you wish to achieve enduring happiness. You must furnish your mind with interesting thoughts and ideas. For an empty mind grows bored and cannot endure itself. An empty mind seeks pleasure as a substitute for happiness” (William Lyon Phelps, quoted by Harvey Fletcher, The Good Life [1961], 137).

Conclusion

Our thoughts influence our actions. Pure thoughts and desires lead to righteous living. Evil thoughts cause us to lose the Spirit of the Lord and can lead us to do evil.

To keep our minds clean, we should always strive to think about the things of God. We should ponder the truths of the gospel and pray constantly. As we do these things, we are promised great blessings. The Lord has promised: “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God. … The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion” (D&C 121:45–46).

We can keep our thoughts pure by avoiding evil. When a bad thought enters our minds, we should immediately think about something inspiring such as a hymn, poem, or scripture. We can also pray for the Lord’s help to resist unclean thoughts.

Challenge

Several times a day think about the things of the Lord. Do your best to “always remember him.” Decide on a way to channel your thoughts. You could memorize one of your favorite hymns, scriptures, or poems. Whenever you are faced with an unclean thought, immediately think through the words you have memorized to force the evil thought away.

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.