Episode 89:

Spiritual Wakefulness

Meghan: Hi, everyone. Welcome to this episode of the Latter day Disciples podcast. I’m excited to be joined today by Thomas Holton. Thomas lives in Ireland. His university education is in the social sciences and in financial administration. He has tutored students in English, mathematics, writing, and taxation, and he has worked as a manager in financial and legal administration for 24 years.

His church service has included a two year mission in England, temple ordinance worker, adult Sunday school teacher four times, ward mission leader twice, branch/district/stake Sunday school president, elders quorum president twice, branch young men president, first counselor to a bishop, branch president for 10 years, and stake high counselor. He presently serves as a first counselor to a branch president and is the church history specialist for the island of Ireland. 

His health challenges over 26 years have taught him to appreciate life. He is the author of three books, Alive in Christ, Cultivated in Christ, and Perfected in Christ. Tom and his wife, Veronica, are the grateful parents of one adult son.

Tom, thank you so much for joining us today.

Tom Holton: Thank you, Meghan, I’m so glad to be with you.

Meghan Farner: Absolutely. So as always, we would like to start with your story and particularly your story in relation to our topic today, which is spiritual alertness. So obviously you have expansive experience with the church administering in a number of callings of all levels and types, but tell us a little bit more just about you and your conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ and what brought you to the place where you are now?

Tom Holton: Okay. Wonderful. I’ve always believed that the church was true. I don’t remember ever really doubting that. I always believed as a little boy. My mom joined the church when I was only two years of age, along with my two brothers and I’ve always loved the church. I love the gospel. 

I did have an experience when I was quite young, 12 years of age, that I will recount. I had spiritual experiences prior to that, but this was a really powerful spiritual experience. Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles came to our district at the time-this was before we were a stake, he had just dedicated Ireland for the preaching of the gospel-so this was 1985 and I was 12 years of age at the time. I was actually sick that day, but my mother said, “Oh, let’s go to this fireside, this is going to be good.” “I was like, “I don’t really feel like it, but okay, I’ll go.”

So I went along with my mom and we sat up at the front row. So I wasn’t that far from Elder Maxwell when he spoke. And as he spoke–I don’t really remember what he said much, very little actually of what he actually said, but I do remember–the power of the Holy Ghost was phenomenal. Now, I don’t know what other people were feeling or thinking there, but I know how I felt and I was moved. People talk about the burning in the bosom?  My whole soul was on fire. It was probably the first time I really remember having that kind of an encounter with another person.  I’ve had it since then, I probably did have it before then, but the recognition of it at that time, I think I was in a place where I needed to hear. And so as he spoke, I had a sure testimony of two things; one was that this was a true apostle of our Savior.  I absolutely felt that with an assurance, the Holy Ghost just burned that into my soul so I couldn’t deny it. The second thing I felt was that Jesus Christ was alive and that this man was a true witness of a living Christ, a Christ that actually exists, not just exists in the pages of a book, but exists in reality.

For me, this wasn’t just an academic experience, it wasn’t just, “Oh yeah, that was a nice talk.” This was earth shattering. This was life changing. I remember during his talk, I didn’t cough once. I’d been coughing prior to it and I was coughing afterwards, but during his talk I didn’t cough once. I was just spellbound, just fixed on him and what he was saying. And to me, that was a transformational experience. I appreciate that not everyone can relate an account like that, but for me, it would be dishonest not to relate it because I have it. And it was every bit as tangible to me as anything we read about in the scriptures. So I came away from that experience feeling “Wow, this is the path I’m called to.” Of course, I was already a member of the church. I already believed.  I have plenty of weaknesses and plenty of challenges, but for me, that was a defining moment. That was a moment where I said okay, I know that this is true. I didn’t just think it, I didn’t just hope, I didn’t just believe, I knew what he was saying was true. And that burned into me deeply. I’ve often referred to that event since then, that was a long time ago, I was only 12 at the time, so that’s nearly 40 years ago, but it was a powerful spiritual witness.

Tom: Later, a few years later, I actually wrote to Elder Maxwell and I told him about the experience I had on that night. He was very kind. He wrote back to me and he actually sent me a copy of one of his books, which was really nice. He wrote to me twice, actually. And on both occasions, he deflected any praise away from himself and basically said that he was grateful that the Lord had been able to intervene in my life in that way.

And so that for me was a pivotal moment, and I was really struck by the fact that I was just alert spiritually while it was happening. It’s like you read about in the scriptures where people are just fixated on the prophet or an angel and they’re just listening intently to every word they say, and that was what it was like for me. So it was a really powerful spiritual experience. I didn’t see angels, there was no light or, there was nothing miraculous that people would say like that. But for me, it was internal. It was a miraculous feeling inside the warmth and the joy and just the happiness that came from that. And I will be frank to admit that I didn’t become a saint overnight. I still had struggles, I still had temptations, I still did lots of stupid things, and I was still weak and fallen, but for me it was a signpost that the Lord was reaching out to me saying, “Okay, here’s a vision of what blessings are available to you if you believe this testimony of this servant of the Lord.”

And I did believe it. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I placed a lot of trust on that experience, and in Elder Maxwell, and I really felt that was inspired. That was an event that I was meant to have. It wasn’t random. It was divine convergence for me. The reason I relate that story is because I’ve often referred back to that, especially in times where–if I might be tired, or I might be feeling spiritually low, might be feeling like, wow, this is a journey, this is hard because it brings to mind what I felt and what I experienced on that day. And it’s a refresher to remind me, okay, I’m holding out my hope for something that is true and something that’s beautiful and deserves to be remembered. So I think that’s important because it laid the foundation for why I became so interested in this topic of spiritual alertness and the whole idea of being alive in Christ, which of course is my first book, but the whole idea of being spiritually alert and attentive, what the Book of Mormon calls quick to observe. And I really think in many ways that was the seedbed. I’ve had other experiences like that, but that was really a pivotal moment for me. So I think everything that I’ve done since then in the church has in one way or another been influenced by that core experience. 


Meghan Farner: I am so jealous. I love elder Maxwell and unfortunately he passed away before I was really aware of him. I was quite young, but since then, obviously going back and reviewing the doctrine that he taught, how he talked about the gospel of Jesus Christ and the witness that he bore. I can only imagine what a powerful experience that was to be in the room with him. 

And I think it’s a great illustration of some of these moments that, as you said, seem to be divinely orchestrated for the purpose of laying a foundation for our testimony. This life is meant to be a journey. It’s a progression and it has to start somewhere. As you said, we’re not going to fly all the way to the top overnight. I do believe there are large leaps that we can take when we receive gifts of grace from Jesus Christ over our lifetime. But before that, we have to have an initial witness, we have to have something that we can grasp onto with faith that we can begin to exercise powerful faith, and then that grows over time. And I think it’s so cool that the Lord allowed you to have this experience as a young man and to lay that foundation of great faith.

It reminds me a little bit of when I was maybe 14. We had Elder Bednar visit our stake–my mom is hard of hearing so we got to sit in about the second row where they have those sections set aside–and Elder Bednar actually at one point in his talk, looked directly at me and made a joke at my expense. So maybe not exactly the same experience that you had, but it is moments like that allowed me to feel known by the Lord. I felt like the Lord saw me, that Elder Bednar valued me enough to see that he could make a joke about me and I wouldn’t be offended, and things like that. 

It is those initial witnesses that we receive in our youth that really do pave the way for us to experience greater and greater things over time. I think that yours is a wonderful example of that.

Tom Holton: Yeah, I really agree because I definitely felt like that was divinely orchestrated, that it was meant to happen, that the Lord knew it would have an impact on me in particular, and other people in their own unique way and it would be a springboard. It would be a decisive, defining moment that I would make a choice to say, okay, I’m going to live the gospel, albeit imperfectly. And, lots of struggles after that. It wasn’t, “Oh, now I’m a completely spiritual person…” but it definitely pointed me in the right direction.

And I agree with you. I felt okay, the Lord knows that he’s speaking to me and he wants me to be paying attention, he doesn’t want me to be asleep spiritually. Because I know sometimes we are asleep spiritually. I’ve had that experience where I’m not focused or I’m not paying attention or I’m not really astute for any number of reasons that can happen. But I realized that it is important that we wake up. Even in the scriptures, the prophets are told on lots of occasions to awake and arise, even prophets have to be awoken from their slumber. And we’ve many accounts of this. So it’s the same for us. We need to wake up sometimes. And that’s not a bad thing because we don’t want to miss out on the opportunities that we could have, the privileges that could be ours if we were willing to pay attention to the Lord and what he wants to bless us with.


Meghan Farner: Absolutely. So let’s talk about that a little bit more, diving into the topic of spiritual sleep. What are the characteristics of someone who is actually spiritually asleep? And what do you think are some of the causes of our being spiritually unalert?


Tom Holton: I think there’s a few things. It strikes me–reflecting on my own experience and also my experience as a member and a leader of the church, something I’ve seen in others… I’ve seen this in myself and sometimes in others–there are times when we have some sort of an addiction. I’m cautious with the topic of addiction because it is a sensitive issue, but I believe we all have temptations, we all have addictions in one way or another. And I think sometimes–I know in my own life–sometimes I think that when we’re doing something that we shouldn’t be doing, we are in a state of spiritual slumber in a way, because we don’t really want to pay attention to what the Lord is saying. Because we know it’s going to indict us.

I appreciate that’s not very popular as a message, that people don’t always want to hear that. But I think it’s important to confront ourselves and that’s the most important thing is to confront ourselves and say, okay, I have an issue, I have a problem where I have an addiction that I need to own up to, I need to face it and I need to get the help that I need. That is something we have to arrive at ourselves. I think we have to have an awakening even to just realize we need help. And so I’m sure everybody can look at themselves and say, okay, I’ve had an issue with this in the past…whatever it might be. And if we confront it and say, ‘okay, look, I really want to overcome this’ I think we’re more likely to listen to what the Lord has to say. I do think there are other times when we may not necessarily be in serious addiction or temptation, but we might be apathetic, or we’re just disinterested, we’re bored.

One of the reasons why I wanted to write Alive in Christ, for example, was that I was amazed at what I felt were times in my own life and times in other people’s lives when the gospel seems to be boring to them. And I’m like, the gospel is not boring, it is sometimes perhaps, but it shouldn’t be. The gospel is exciting. It is far more majestic, I think, than anything else we have in this world. And I’ve experienced lots of things that are amazing. But the gospel is by far the most exciting thing that I’ve ever experienced, even more than true love. I think sometimes people assume all the gospel is boring. They’re looking at it in a way that curtails the full dimension of it. Perhaps they’re just looking at it as a system of do’s and don’ts, or a list of regulations. And to my mind, that’s an unfortunate way of looking at it, because the gospel is so much more. I think, for example–President Nelson has really showcased this to the saints–that here’s a man who’s nearly 99 years of age, he’s full of enthusiasm and the reason he is because he understands the gospel. That’s the reason. That’s the primary reason he’s so happy and excited is because he knows the gospel is the great mystery. It’s the great revelation that Heavenly Father wants to give us. It gives us joy. It gives us hope. It gives us energy. It actually makes us more energetic and more enthusiastic.

So there are just two things. There are other things we could talk about, but I think apathy is something that I’ve seen over the years and it saddens me because I think it doesn’t have to be that way; we don’t have to become bored or burned out. Sometimes people talk about being burned out in the gospel, and I think if that happens to us, it’s important to go back to the source, go back to the fire within us, the flame of God’s truth. And reignite that spark because it’s a powerful spark. If we get tired, if we get exhausted, if we get bored, if we get burned out, just remind ourselves, what am I actually doing here? What am I trying to accomplish? And then catch the vision of that. 

I would say the 2 things that probably concern me the most is addiction, which seems to be everywhere in the world, addiction of one form or another, and we all know what those things are. No one needs to be told. We all know what they are, so addiction on the one hand and then apathy or just disinterest or boredom [on the other]. And I think both of those things can keep us inactive, inert, the sense of inertia where we just don’t live up to our potential. And I understand it because it’s happened to me. I’m not quick to say, oh, we shouldn’t have it, but we all have those experiences. But I don’t think we have to remain there. We can break free from those things that keep us in bondage, if you like.

Meghan Farner: I totally agree. And I think that these are great examples.

A couple of thoughts that I had as you were speaking; the point about addiction being one of the things that keep us spiritually asleep, I think that the reason that might be is that addiction essentially is the worship of a false God, right? It’s a form of idolatry. And it’s succumbing to temptation to the degree that you no longer have the full range of choice and agency that you otherwise would have and so now you are compelled. You are subject to something that is coming between you and the relationship you could be having with your heavenly parents and with Jesus Christ. And you are now putting the effort and the time and the focus away from them. You are compelled to give it to this false God.

And so that’s a whole conversation about idols and what our idols are. And I think that really does broaden the definition of an addiction, when we come to see that it’s not just substances, it’s not just pornography, it is anything that is coming between you and God, it is anything that you are being compelled to worship because you’ve made choices that unfortunately you don’t have the same degree of choice that you originally did. That’s really powerful and scary when you look at it that way. And I think the scriptures speak extensively on temptation and sin and this idolatry as a condition of the last days that does keep people spiritually asleep. It does keep us spiritually blind to the things that otherwise we would be knowing. 

And that kind of naturally leads to that apathy that you were talking about, that when we are distracted and putting our efforts in other pursuits, naturally the gospel is not going to be as compelling as an addiction or as something that gives us a sense of instant gratification. Although, as you said, it should be. Because the gospel of Jesus Christ, the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the process by which we return to God. As soon as we are able to apply it, that is the culminating event. And what greater thing could there be than returning to the presence of God? I certainly can’t think of one. I think it is born of that false perception and that distraction that we talked about. 

Another thought that I had–and maybe this is going to be a little controversial, so feel free to slap me on the wrist if this isn’t something that resonates–but a thought that I had is, I think, especially in the church, we so easily can fall prey to a sense of spiritual entitlement. What I mean by that is that we have been so blessed. We are so blessed to be members of the Lord’s church and to be a part of this vehicle that he is using to exalt mankind and to prepare the world for his return. That’s incredible. It’s incredible to have the fullness of the gospel that teaches us this full path of how to know God intimately and personally and immediately. That’s incredible. But I think sometimes because of these things, because of the additional scripture that we have, we take it for granted and we begin to have a sense of better than thou. Sometimes over other religions or other peoples or even within our own religion, looking at other people and thinking that they are lesser because they believe certain things or they don’t believe certain things that aren’t, strictly laid out in certain ways. And I think that’s really dangerous. Like ultimately that’s a pretty potent form of pride. It’s the same pride that caused the Zoramites to build the Rameumptoms and say, we’re so glad that we’re your people and we’re chosen and thank you very much and I’ll see you next week. I see the temptation. I feel the temptation for that myself personally.

What do you think of us having a sense of spiritual entitlement that might be actually keeping us quite asleep?

Tom Holton:  Yeah, I think that’s a really important point. And it really is so easy to fall into that trap. Like when I was younger, I didn’t fully understand that the reason we have the gospel is not because we’re brilliant. Really, the reason is because of responsibility. We’ve been given the responsibility to hold the burden, to bear the burden of discipleship in these last days, to hold up the flag like the standard bearer. It’s so true. It’s this idea that we are given a covenant obligation and that obligation is a burden, but it’s also a privilege. And if we look at it as a privilege, as an opportunity, as an honor, I think that’s far better than looking upon it as if somehow we’ve merited it. Because of this sense of entitlement–I think you’ve latched onto something really important there–I think we’ve far too much in our societies of this idea of entitlement. Entitlement is a toxic poison. And it’s far better–to my mind–to think about duty and about work and about self sacrifice and devotion. And I realize that they’re not always popular notions in this day and age, but they are so important. They are bedrock. They’re the standard, so I totally agree that spiritually it’s the burden, it’s the covenant of obligation and duty. And sometimes that scares people off. They think, “Oh, I don’t want to be burdened.” “I don’t want to be held down.” “I don’t want to be obligated.” But what they don’t realize is that the secret is that if you give yourself over to duty, to honor, to obligation, to work, you actually become joyful. And this is the great secret with doing service.

I served for 10 years as a branch president as you read in my bio, and that’s a very long time. And I can tell you, it was very difficult. People don’t realize how difficult it is to be in a position like that because you’re hearing people’s most serious problems. Whatever you can think of, people are experiencing it in the church, that’s the kind of thing you’re hearing about and you have to keep it confidential, you have to treat it carefully and sensitively, and directly. Sometimes people are looking upon you to give guidance and leadership and sound counsel and sometimes you don’t know what to do, you have to rely on the Lord. But the point is that’s a role of service. It’s a difficult role, but because it’s so difficult you grow. You grow so much when you forget about yourself, when you stop thinking about, oh, my ease or my comfort or how can I be safe or how can I have an easy life or a luxurious life. I don’t think the Lord has called us to be comfortable. He’s called us to stretch, to grow, and that means growing pains.

So for me, what you’ve said there is really important. It is important to remind ourselves and to question ourselves periodically and to say, am I becoming proud? Am I becoming arrogant? Am I thinking I’m better than others? Because for me, the gospel isn’t about being better than others. It’s about being better than we were before. It’s about being better than the natural man. It’s about being like the Savior or trying to be like the Savior. And I don’t think the natural man, anybody finds that easy. President Nelson hasn’t found it easy to try to be like the Savior. Even for the best of people, that’s a high standard. Yeah, I totally agree.

The focus should be on service and responsibility rather than on, “What are my entitlements?” And I think there’s a secret there. It’s a hidden secret that the adversary has tried to obscure. He wants to say your life should be about getting what you want when you want it, with whom you want it, don’t have any restraints, do what you like. And that’s a poisonous doctrine. The Lord is right. When the Lord said, lose your life in service, lose your life in love, and you will find it. And it’s absolutely my testimony that’s the way, because I’ve lived both of those kinds of life. So I know from my own experience, I don’t need to be told. I know which one brings happiness. And the Lord’s way is far happier, even though it involves obligation, it involves work, it involves self sacrifice. It’s a much more joyful way to live. Yeah, very important that we remember. And I think that’s why the Zoramite story is in the Book of Mormon, to teach us, because these people had been taught the truth before their dissension. So they knew the truth. And so we have to be careful. And it’s not about comparisons with other people. It’s about what’s best for everyone. The gospel is for everyone who’s willing to receive it. And I think that’s what makes the Lord happy. He wants to give the gospel to everyone if they’ll just receive it.


Meghan Farner: I totally agree. And something that I just thought about too, in regards to the Rameumptom. In some ways, it’s almost a reflection of a mini tower of Babel. I think, not only have they fallen from the truth–they knew the truth, right? These are Nephites. They were educated in the fullness of the gospel–now, they’ve decided that they’re chosen. They’ve let this pride seep into their culture and their forms of worship. And they’ve built these kind of mini Tower of Babels. A depiction of that to me is a false pathway back to Godhood. And it’s this false reconciliation with God that is a result of the spiritual sense of entitlement that they’ve had.

And so what’s really interesting about that is, as you were saying, the true way to become like Jesus Christ is to abase yourself, to apply the principle of servant leadership, where, when you are in the service of your fellow beings, you are in the service of your God. And who was most in the service of God other than Jesus Christ, who is himself a God? This is the process and the pattern is that we are meant to be subjecting ourselves, sacrificing, giving offerings of obedience, being the Lord’s hands and feet in the specific ways that he wants us to do that.  It’s not going to look the same for all of us. You wrote a book. He told me to start a podcast. Everyone’s going to have a different journey, but it all is this reflection of servant leadership of trying to become near to God by humiliation and by abasing yourself in that way. And then yes, bearing under the responsibility of discipleship as you said. I love that phrase. And asking for the burdens to be put upon us, knowing that heavy weight will be some of the very things that get us closest to God, rather than putting ourselves on a pedestal and saying, “This is the way to God.”

I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the application of the atonement and what the atonement can really do for us, because it seems that we tend to use the atonement as a source of survival, “I need to get through this hard thing.” “I need to get through this trial or this tribulation.” And certainly it’s meant for that. I don’t want to be mistaken. I think God and Jesus Christ are perfectly empathetic. That was one of the primary reasons for the performance of the Atonement was to have a perfectly empathetic God who can see us through those hard times. But we forget that the Atonement is also for our ascendancy, it’s for our transformation to becoming like Christ, to becoming servant leaders in the truest capacity. What thoughts do you have on that?

Tom Holton: It’s so true. It’s really true. This idea that as we humble ourselves, we actually become better people. It’s ironic. The more pride we have, the worse of a person we are. It’s counterintuitive in a way, but it’s so true. I’m struck by the example of Jacob’s ladder. In the Bible, Jacob obviously takes a rest at night in the desert, lays down on a rock, not a very comfortable position to be in, in the desert, sleeping on a rock. And of course has this dream of the ladder stretching up into heaven and the angels are coming down and going up. Marion G. Romney, who was a member of the first presidency, gave the interpretation that those rungs on the ladder were the covenants that we make at each stage, starting with baptism and confirmation, eventually leading to the temple. And that’s how we ascend. 

The word you’ve used, to ascend, that’s how we come close to the presence of God.  I’ve noticed in recent years, in particular, a lot of the apostles, Elder Bednar, President Nelson, Elder Rasband, and others have been talking about yoking ourselves with Christ through covenant. And that for me is a profound idea. It’s the idea that we are bound to Christ through those covenants and those covenants that we make, they give us knowledge, they give us power, they give us opportunities. These are things that we wouldn’t have without those covenants. And they give us blessings, but the covenants are linked with obedience. They’re linked with service, with sacrifice, with chastity, with all the laws of the gospel and with consecration, of course, and so it really is this idea that as we submit our will to God, that’s when we flourish. I totally agree with you that it’s not just about survival, it’s about flourishing.

And this relates nicely to the idea of becoming spiritually awake or spiritually alert and that we actually flourish in the gospel. The scriptures speak about the Lamanites blossoming as a rose and Isaiah talks a lot about this overflowing bounty, really, that comes to the covenant house of Israel, the land of promise, a land flowing with milk and honey.

And this is really, to my mind, this is the idea of abundance and not just spiritually, but temporally. And as saints, we are richly blessed, but the reason we’re blessed is so that we can bless others. The reason we have so much is not so we can hoard it to ourselves. It is so we can give bounteously to a world that really is in desperate need.

And actually, it’s not just that we give those gifts to strangers. We give them to our families. We serve our spouse, we serve our children, we serve the people in our wards and branches, we serve the people in our community, the people we work with, and strangers we meet. Basically, I agree with you, this idea of servant leadership, it’s the idea of extending ourselves, of pouring ourselves out, so that others might be filled up. And that’s really what Christ did, and that’s what the prophets do. If we watch carefully to see the lives of the apostles, they get their energy from giving. That’s what they love to do. They love to serve. And that’s what actually makes them happy to bless the lives of others. So I think there’s a great lesson to be learned there…if we want to be more astute spiritually, we can forget ourselves, try a little bit more to forget our problems and say, how can I help somebody else? It sounds trite. It sounds almost naive, but it is true that as we forget ourselves and love and serve others we find a newness of life in ourselves.


Meghan Farner: It strikes me. I’m so grateful that you brought up the topic of covenants and of these being the means by which, as you said, we yoke ourselves to the Savior and we bind the power of God in our favor, as scripture teaches us. And it strikes me, looking at it from that perspective, how each covenant is a successive denigration of our natural self. As the covenants and the ladder go up, we become less and less. We are putting more and more on the altar. First off our will, initially, and then sacrificing our natural selves and saying, “I’m going to give no indulgence to my flesh. I’m going to let my spirit reign over me.” And then applying the fullness of the gospel. And the law of chastity. Chastity, I think, is far more than just abstaining from sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman. I think it’s much more. I think it has so much to do with meekness, with submission of self, and controlling our power, our powers of creation, our power of thought, our power of our actions. There’s so much in that, that really shows that it is a greater and greater sacrifice and then culminating with the sacrifice of all things; our life, our means, our substance, our comfort, our very being is 100 percent the Lord’s and we no longer have a sense of self because we are unified with God. I think that’s incredible. I think that’s  such an interesting perspective.

Tom Holton: It’s a profound concept really, because, it strikes me just as you were saying that, as we get married, we are required to live the law of chastity. And one of the blessings is we are no longer single. We become two. And as we know in the gospel, one plus one doesn’t equal two, one plus one equals three or four or five. So that multiplicity effect, that really just underscores what you’ve said. This idea that in chastity, we actually gain abundance. We draw people to us. We draw children to us. So we prosper, we gain posterity. So really the richest blessings of the gospel come with the highest laws. They come with the highest standards. The great outpouring of family would be impossible were it not for the law of chastity, really, in that covenantal sense. So yeah, I love that idea. 


Meghan Farner: And I love that perspective too. If you think about the sealing as the highest ordinance of the temple that we participate in. And what does that say about eternity? I think it is still this progression of a denigration of myself until I am nothing but the Lord’s. And then the Lord yokes me with someone else who has done the same. I love that, that it does become this eternal web, this eternal family of all of these people who have completely given themselves to God. And then they are brought together in that incredible union. I think that’s awesome. 

So we’ve talked about some of the ways that can cause us to be spiritually asleep, spiritually not on alert at all. Let’s talk a little bit more about some of the things that you have found to shake us from that slumber and raise our spiritual awareness.

Tom Holton: Okay. Excellent. There’s a few things that I’ve done–and they really are things that the Lord through his servants has invited us to do, so there’s nothing here that’s radically different but there are some things I’ve definitely learned as I focused on this idea–one of the things is the living prophets and apostles. I try to listen very carefully to everything they talk about, obviously, but particularly the things they talk about that will keep me spiritually observant, spiritually astute, spiritually awake, the gift of discernment, if you like. Elder Bednar gave a great talk many years ago called ‘Quick to Observe’, where he talked about the gifts of the spirit and how the gift of discernment was one of those great gifts. And it’s a talk I would highly commend to people that they would reflect on it. It’s an excellent talk. The idea really, that as we pay attention to the gifts of the spirit, we become more observant, we become more discerning, we become more alert. And actually we learn to be obedient quicker. And more decisively.

And so I think that’s a really interesting point. It’s something that President Eyring has spoken to as well, this idea of obeying quickly and decisively. And sometimes we’re a bit sluggish. We hear an instruction and we say, I’ll get to it eventually. Or, we procrastinate. But one of the key things I think the brethren have taught us–and this seems to be happening more frequently–is that they’re teaching us of the need to be spiritually attuned and observant and alert because they are sharing many great things, which are helping us to prepare for the second coming. 

I’m struck, for example, by the talk Elder Bednar gave a couple of conferences ago, it wasn’t this last conference, it was the one before that, where he talked about putting on the wedding garment. And that, for me, was a deeply symbolic message. And I think a lot of what Elder Bednar was saying, he actually was not saying overtly, it was implied. It was hidden between the lines. It was the meaning that was hidden behind the words. And I, myself, gained a lot of insight and revelation from it, and thought about it a lot and it gave me some very interesting things that I’m working on. But the idea, to my mind was, okay, are you paying attention now, because this is really not the time to be spiritually slumbering or asleep, this is the time to be alert and awake, because the hastening has started, and we know from the revelations that once the hastening starts, it doesn’t stop, and it doesn’t slow down, it only gets quicker.

So we know, based on that talk, I think, and others that President Nelson has given, that obviously we’re closer to the second coming. I don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen, but what I do know is that if we are paying attention to what the prophets are saying about the second coming in particular and preparation for the things we need to do, we’ll be spiritually alert. So I’ve tried to apply that. That’s one of the key things to listen very carefully to what all of the apostles are saying in terms of preparing ourselves.


Meghan Farner: Yeah, I think that was a BYU devotional that Elder Bednar gave that talked about quick to observe and how that relates to gifts of the spirit. And I love that because that’s in the scriptures, right? The gift of the Holy Ghost and the gifts that are bestowed upon us in connection with the receiving of the Holy Ghost in actuality. 

I think it’s interesting that another definition–so quick to observe is one of those phrases that I feel like you can kind of define in a couple of different ways. One of them, the way that you were talking about, is quick to obey. I think it is so important, when we have a prompting, when we hear the light of Christ in our minds, we have to hasten our obedience. And more consistently, not shutting that voice down, but giving it heed whenever it comes to us.

Another way to describe the quick to observe is more of a literal, like observing with our eyes. If you think of it that way, it’s about observing truth and seeing truth and claiming truth wherever it is that we find it because it’s everywhere in the world, obviously. In connection to that, then the gift of discernment becomes even more vital because we want to claim truth wherever it is that we can find it. That being said, truth oftentimes is mixed with error and sometimes dangerously so. That doesn’t mean we want to shun the truth and it doesn’t mean that we want to be fearful about seeking out true things, but it does mean that we have to receive the gift of discernment, through the Holy Ghost, to make sure that we’re able to see the subtle things that tell us, is this from Christ, or is this from the adversary.  I’ve had some recent experiences with that and it’s intimidating. It’s challenging. And so I definitely agree that in as much as the prophets are telling us to receive the Holy Ghost through that quick obedience and the subsequent gifts that come with it. I think that’s absolutely vital as you were saying.

Tom Holton: It’s so true. One of the other things that’s really struck me is the importance of studying the scriptures directly, in terms of this idea of spiritually alert. There’s lots of different phrases: awake, alive. There’s a variation on a theme and people can look at those things themselves, but the scriptures speak pointedly to the last days and they speak very clearly about the circumstances of the last days. In fact, we know that the scriptures say that in the last days, if it were possible, the very elect would be deceived. And people have different interpretations of what that means but actually, as I read it, it’s the elect according to the covenant, meaning that those most likely to fall foul of this are people who have access to the covenant or people who are within the covenant. This sort of goes back to what you were talking about earlier, about spiritual entitlement. The risk is there because Satan knows that the covenant people have an opportunity to do the great work of salvation for the living and the dead, and he wants to make us under anesthesia, he wants to put us asleep. He wants us to keep us distracted. Or diverted or diluted or contaminated or whatever way you want to look at it. He wants to keep us out of the game. He wants us on the sidelines. He wants us to be spectators or maybe not even spectators. He just wants us to be out of the game because if you can do that, he’s neutralized us.

And so to my mind, what I’ve been looking at the scriptures to see, especially the latter day scriptures is to say, okay, this concept of being spiritually alert and awake and attentive and watching. That’s another idea in the scriptures, is the idea of watching what’s happening, being aware, being conscientious, not being distracted. But this idea of being astute to what that deception looks like, that if the devil can get us to be complacent in our covenants or to cast them off or to trivialize them or to neglect them or to abandon them altogether in the guise of freedom. He wants us to be free from our covenants. And that, to my mind, is what’s been happening in many ways, obviously not to everyone, but to many people. There’s a temptation to do that because covenants are not a popular idea in this day and age. 

And so I’ve really been studying the scriptures with that intention to say, okay, how can I ensure that I’m not deceived, that I’m not tricked, that I understand the importance of my covenants and that I’m committed to acting on them. I think President Nelson from the very outset, five years ago, when he became the president of the church, he spoke from the temple and he said he was beginning with the end in mind and talking about the covenant blessings of the temple. I think he has a very clear understanding why that’s so important in these last days. And it’s actually going to become more important, not less. 

So to my mind, that’s one of the ways I’m trying to keep myself alert to say, okay. Is this a part of my covenant? Is what I’m intending to do or what I’m planning to do, is this any connection to my covenant? Or is it against my covenant? Or  does it show defiance or a relaxation of my covenant or ignoring them or neglecting them in any way? And if it does, that’s dangerous ground. And so for me, that’s really been insightful, to put that connection together and to say, the scriptures are the testament, which is the covenant–another word of saying testament is covenant–the scriptures are the covenants of the Lord. And so it’s so important that we have an observance with those covenants.

I often think if we approach our scripture study, saying to the Lord, “Lord, whatever I learn, I’m going to do, I’m going to commit myself to do what I learned.” The Lord is much more likely to reveal the meaning behind those scriptures, he’s much more likely to tell us what’s going on, even at deeper levels, if we can say, I’m not just interested at an intellectual level, or I’m interested at a historical level, or I’m curious if we can actually say, “Look, I’m really invested in this, as a life project, I’m interested in keeping my covenants and helping others to do likewise.” To my mind, the scriptures will open to us in a whole new way and we’ll receive revelation that is covenant loyal. In other words, it’s revelation that is given to us to make us stronger in the covenant, to resist evil and temptation, to conquer the power of the devil in our lives.

Meghan Farner: Absolutely. I think that this point can’t be overstated..is going to the scriptures to learn how the Lord defines things, what things mean to him and what does keeping our covenants actually mean?

I think that we are as susceptible to the philosophies of men mingled with scripture as is anyone else, right? That’s one of those aspects we have to come to terms with when we get rid of the spiritual entitlement, is that we’re 200 years removed from Joseph Smith and haven’t restored Zion yet. And that means something, that means that we would all do well to go back to the scriptures and actually try to understand, “What does God mean by these covenants?” “And what does covenant keeping actually look like?” I think far too often–I know I’ve fallen prey to assuming that I’m keeping covenants that I haven’t taken the time to actually understand what they mean to the Lord. And that’s really detrimental. A lot of what the scriptures teach us, also, is that in connection with the responsibility and the blessings of a covenant relationship, there are also covenant curses that come because of disobedience and people who don’t understand the terms of the covenant. And a lot of the times those people think that they’re keeping the covenant, right? Look at the ancient examples of the Israelites or the Jews at the time of Jesus and it’s easy to see these people thought that they were keeping covenant with God. And they clearly weren’t. It’s the same as when Lehi left Jerusalem. They thought that they were righteous people. Laman and Lemuel said, these are righteous people and we know that. That is because they thought that they understood the tenants of a covenant relationship with God, but they didn’t. This is so crucial. 

And I think I would be so bold to say that a lot of the trials and tribulations that will be coming on the earth will be as a result of–as you were saying–the Lord’s covenant people not understanding and keeping the covenant terms, as he means them. And there’s a lot of scriptural evidence for that. So that is so important for us to go back to the scriptures and assume nothing. Assume that you don’t know what anything means and use them like a dictionary, sometimes, studying across them to really understand what things mean to the Lord so that we can then with confidence approach him and say, “You have taught me. You have taught me what my covenants mean. You have taught me how to keep them. And now I’m dedicating myself to keeping them.” Just as you were saying.


Tom Holton: So important. And I also think in conjunction with that, as we go to the temple–the temple has so many layers and levels of understanding, I’ve been going to the temple for a long time, and recently I realized that every time I go, I learn something new. In fact, I went there a couple of times recently and I was getting so much revelation, I needed to take a piece of paper and start writing while I was actually in the temple in an endowment session, and I just started taking notes and it was coming so quick. And people were probably wondering, “What’s he taking notes for in the endowment session?” I was really taking loads.

And it struck me that the temple is a house of covenant, and it’s the house of Jesus Christ, it’s where he teaches us about his covenants. And when you were saying that idea about the scriptures teaches us about the covenant, so does the temple. It teaches us what God expects us to be. And I love the fact that the temple helps us to be spiritually awake, we are even told in the temple, be alert, be attentive, the lights are on.  Sometimes we’re asleep in the temple, not so much now, but in times past when it was very dark–they didn’t use to have the light on–and you’d find yourself falling asleep and then you’re like, “What am I doing? I’m in the house of the Lord. I need to wake up.” 

And so this speaks to this point that as we wake ourselves up, the Lord will teach us in the temple. And I believe he will teach us in the temple. From my own experience he will teach us things that he doesn’t teach us anywhere else, because I know I’ve received revelations in the temple that were just so astonishing to me, so profound, that I really don’t talk about too much, but to me, they are revelation, personal revelation. they’re just so beautiful and so inspired, things that I never thought I would learn.  I totally agree, I think as we go to the temple the Lord will open our eyes and not just our physical eyes, he’ll open our spiritual eyes as well. And he’ll open all of us, our entire lives to the things he wants us to know.


Meghan Farner: Absolutely. The temple is meant to be a house of learning. And I think that we would all do so well to go to the Lord and say, “Lord, what am I supposed to be learning from the temple?” And then yes, go and let that revelation flow. I love that. Tom, thank you so much. Do you have any last thoughts, just anything final that you would like to say on the topic of us being perhaps spiritually asleep and making sure that we wake up and are alert.

Tom Holton: I think that each of us can cultivate the feeling of the Holy Ghost. I think the Holy Ghost is so important because he’s a traveling companion. He wants to be with us. And there’s no better companion, in a sense, because he will guide us. He will warn us. He will inspire us. He will comfort us. And it’s really my experience that as we have the Holy Ghost with us, he will open our hearts to understanding, He will open our minds, he will give us peace, he will give us joy, he will give us hope. And I do want to emphasize that. It’s so important that we believe that the Lord wants to bless us and we can achieve it, whatever he wants us to do, we can do it, whatever the past has been. And sometimes we are in a state of spiritual slumber, but it doesn’t have to remain that way. The Lord can wake us up and we can wake ourselves up and the Holy Ghost will help us. And I really believe that it’s so important to take the Holy Ghost as our guide in all things, in the scriptures and listening to the prophets, in serving in our callings, in the temple. The common thread there is we need the Holy Ghost to open our hearts and minds to the things that are true.


Meghan Farner: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. Receiving the Holy Ghost is the absolute most important pursuit that we can possibly be invested in at this time. It is the mark of the wise virgins as the Lord describes them. Those who are prepared to withstand the times ahead are those who have received the Holy Ghost and have remained worthy in their spiritual progression for his attendancy. So I totally agree. Amen. Tom, thank you so much. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. You have a YouTube channel. Where would someone go if they wanted to hear more of your thoughts? I know you do some dialogue On Come Follow Me quite regularly. Where could someone find more from you?

Tom Holton: So my website is wordsofwonder.com. And my YouTube channel has the same title, Words of Wonder. So if they just check on my website, wordsofwonder.com or my YouTube channel that has all the links there that people can find.


Meghan Farner: Perfect. Definitely invite people to do that. Tom, thank you again so much for sharing your time and your testimony with us.


Tom Holton: My privilege. Thank you so much.

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