Of all the things we do in the church, there is nothing more worthy of our preparation than temple worship. The topic of preparing for the temple is especially applicable for soon-to-be missionaries, as all full-time Mormon missionaries go to the temple to receive their endowment prior to entering the MTC to begin their missionary service.
Scripture study, prayer, righteous desires, and complete worthiness are among the best things you can do for preparation as first-time temple attenders, as well as all who enter the temple. Those going to the temple for the first time should also consider taking the Church Temple Preparation (called Endowed from on High) from your ward or stake. The Church pamphlet called Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple is also a great resource to anyone attending the temple. That pamphlet states:
“What we gain from the temple will depend to a large degree on what we take to the temple in the way of humility and reverence and a desire to learn. If we are teachable we will be taught by the Spirit, in the temple.”
In my 20 years of attending the holy temple, the Spirit of the Lord has taught me many things. Many of those things are sacred and personal and should not be shared publicly, but many things I have learned can be shared and consist of blessings and knowledge within the grasp of all. What I have come to know is that the temple is
- A Place of Prayer
- A House of Wholeness
- A Sacrament of Symbols
As you understand these principles about the temple, I believe you will be more prepared for the experiences you will have in the temple and you will get greater blessings from your temple worship.
Place of Prayer
First, the temple is a place of prayer. Inscribed on each LDS temple is the phrase: “The House of the Lord.” The temple is literally the Lord’s House. There is no place on earth where you can be closer to God, figuratively or literally, than in His temple. As such, it is an ideal place to approach God in prayer. In fact, in the Doctrine and Covenants, the temple is referred to as a “house of prayer” (see D&C 88:119 and 109:8).
When you are facing difficult decisions or tough challenges in your life, I encourage you to go to the temple and pray. If you cannot yet enter the temple, that’s okay. You can still go to the temple grounds, feel close to God, and ponder the things of eternity. In a previous stake, I worked in a calling closely with the stake president. When he dealings with individuals with disciplinary issues that prevented them from going inside the temple, he still encouraged them to attend the temple grounds on a regular basis. He felt, and I agree, that the temple grounds, which are quiet and beautifully landscaped, will help draw people’s thoughts and desires toward God. And if the outside of the temple is a good place to approach God in prayer, just think how good the inside of the temple is.
Prayer, in the scriptures, is often linked together with fasting, and the temple is also referred to as a “house of fasting.” At one point in my life, I was earnestly praying for a new job. I had been searching for a new job for many months, and I was getting very little traction. Then I read D&C 88:119 which calls the temple a house of fasting, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon me in an unmistakable fashion. The Spirit reminded me that I had never in my life gone to the temple while fasting. If the temple is a house of fasting, I thought, I better attend while fasting, and I immediately made plans to do so. A few days later, I fasted and went to the temple and in the days that followed I received an outpouring of the blessings I sought. All of a sudden, I was getting dozens of requests for job interviews and before I knew it, I have several good leads and landed a great new job. This blessing was clearly a result of combining fasting and prayer and temple worship and strengthened my testimony of this principle.
President Thomas S. Monson, in his biography, To the Rescue, tells a story of fasting and prayer in the temple:
“[President Spencer W. Kimball] underwent open-heart surgery in 1972; the Apostles were in the temple that day, fasting, and they were “filled with hopeful anxiety” as they waited for word. When the phone rang, President Harold B. Lee left the room to take the call. “President Lee was a master at masking his feelings, and he walked back into the room as somber as he could be. He said, ‘That was Brother Nelson [speaking of President Kimball’s heart surgeon, Dr. Russell M. Nelson]. Spencer is off the pump!’” [Then] Elder Monson’s journal entry at the end of the day was tender: “We all smiled and said a prayer of thanksgiving.” (Chapter 24 of “To the Rescue”)
Truman G. Madsen once said:
“[My] testimony of the restored temple is that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ yearn not to widen that gap but to close it. In the house of the Lord we may come to Him in light, in closeness, and in holy embrace. He promises in latter-day revelation: “I will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house” (D&C 110:7).” (The Temple and the Mysteries of Godliness By Truman G. Madsen)
Not only do we leave our worldly clothes behind us at the temple in exchange for uniform, white clothing, but we also leave behind the cares of the world when we enter the temple. As you pray, the Lord will communicate to you about what really matters, eternally speaking. I have often gone to the temple in prayer and not received answers. Better stated, it’s not that I didn’t receive answers, it’s that my worries were the cares of the world. God, in his eternal perspective, knows what is really important and cares most about our eternal well-being and returning to his presence in the Celestial Kingdom. If answers to prayers are hard to come by, don’t confuse God’s eternal perspective with divine indifference.
There is no place on the earth where we can get closer to God and no place better to pray and receive answers to prayer than in the House of the Lord. The Temple truly is a place of prayer.
House of Wholeness
Second, the temple is a house of wholeness. By wholeness, I mean the temple is a place where the complete and full gospel is presented. The temple is all-encompassing of the whole gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is the center of all we do in His Church. All the things we do in the Church, all ordinances, all programs, and all teachings ultimately lead to the temple. Missionary work, Sunday services, family history work, and all other programs of the Church have the ultimate design to help families go to the temple and receive the ordinances there.
President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught this principle when he said that “missionary work is only the beginning” of the gathering of Israel. He said, “the fulfillment, the consummation, of those blessings comes as those who have entered the waters of baptism perfect their lives to the point that they may enter the holy temple. Receiving an endowment there seals members of the Church to the Abrahamic covenant” (Thanks for the Covenant, Nov 22, 1988).
The ancient American prophet Nephi also taught this principle in 2 Nephi chapter 31 when he said:
“For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; …And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” (2 Nephi 31:17-20)
Receiving the higher ordinances of the temple and keeping those covenants is a key part of what Nephi described as pressing forward after baptism. The path we start at baptism is not complete until we also go to the temple.
Elder David A. Bednar, in a general conference address in May 2009, explained that “the baptismal covenant clearly contemplates a future event or events and looks forward to the temple.” Quoting Elder Neal A. Maxwell in this talk, he said, “Clearly, when we baptize, our eyes should gaze beyond the baptismal font to the holy temple.”
Elder John A. Widtsoe, former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke of the wholeness of the temple when he said:
“The temple ordinances encompass the whole plan of salvation, as taught from time to time by the leaders of the Church, and elucidate matters difficult of understanding. There is no warping or twisting in fitting the temple teachings into the great scheme of salvation. The philosophical completeness of the endowment is one of the great arguments for the veracity of the temple ordinances. Moreover, this completeness of survey and expounding of the Gospel plan, makes temple worship one of the most effective methods of refreshing the memory concerning the whole structure of the gospel. (John A. Widtsoe, “Temple Worship,” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 12 [April 1921]: 58.)
In the temple, we are taught about the creation of the earth, the fall of mankind, and the plan of salvation through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Those doctrines are both central to the gospel and all-encompassing of God’s plan. As we understand that the centrality of the temple and the complete wholeness of the gospel teachings presented there, then we will be better prepared to attend the temple and receive the blessings promised there. Only in the temple can we reach our full potential.
Sacrament of Symbols
Lastly, the temple is a sacrament of symbols. By sacrament, I mean the generic sense of the word in which a sacrament is an ordinance. Many Christian churches have sacraments or ordinances such as baptism and partaking of the Lord ’s Supper. We have those ordinances as well in our church, but in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, we also know about higher ordinances that only can take place in the temple. Sacraments, or ordinances, are an important part of the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is through the ordinances of the gospel that the power of godliness is revealed (see D&C 84:20).
In the early days of the restored Church, the Lord explained that the purpose of the building temples was to reveal ordinances. “And verily I say unto you, let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people; for I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times.” (D&C 124:40–41.)
Through the ordinances of the gospel, we make covenants or promises to God and he, in turn, promises us certain blessings. We know that the purpose of life as stated in Abraham 3:25 is for God to see if we will do the things he commands us to do. Through the covenants of the temple, God will see if we will do the things we have promised to do.
The temple and the ordinances that take place inside are rich in symbolism and meaning. If you have seen any one of our temples at night, fully lit, you get a glimpse of the symbolism. The temple stands out in the darkness and shines for a long distance. It is symbolic of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to shine light upon a world that seems to be sinking further and further into spiritual darkness. Many other gospel truths are referred to in the temple through symbols and not necessarily spelled out. It is up to you to study and ponder and pray and come to know what these things mean. The Spirit will be your teacher.
Elder John A. Widtsoe once said, “We live in a world of symbols. No man or woman can come out of the temple endowed as he should be, unless he has seen, beyond the symbol, the mighty realities for which the symbols stand. (“Temple Worship,” page 62.)
The Church’s “Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple” pamphlet says:
“The temple ceremony will not be fully understood at first experience. It will be only partly understood. Return again and again and again. Return to learn. Things that have troubled you or things that have been puzzling or things that have been mysterious will become known to you. Many of them will be the quiet, personal things that you really cannot explain to anyone else. But to you they are things known.”
One of the ways the Lord loves to teach us is through symbols, stories, patterns, examples, etc. When the Savior was on the earth, he frequently taught through stories, parables, and the pattern of his own life. In the ordinances of the gospel we find those symbols and patterns. In D&C 52:14 the Lord says, “I will give unto a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived.” And what is the pattern? He answers that question in the following verse: “The same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances.”
Study the ordinances of the gospel, including those recorded in the scriptures such as the Savior’s baptism, Alma baptizing Helam, the last supper of Jesus with his apostles, and Abraham receiving the priesthood. As you come to understand these ordinances and the deep meaning behind them you will come to a better understanding of the temple and you will be more prepared to receive the blessings of temple worship.
Brothers and sisters, I testify that the temple is a place of prayer, a house of wholeness, and a sacrament of symbols. The temple has the power to transforms individuals from unworthy telestial beings, to sons and daughters of God, worthily of the Celestial glory. Any and all efforts you make to prepare and enter the Holy Temple are well worth the sacrifice.
I testify of our Savior Jesus Christ lives. Through his infinite and eternal Atonement he died and was resurrected that we too may live again and be brought back to live with our Heaven Father. I know that Our Savior leads our church today through living prophets who hold the keys of the priesthood and temple ordinances. As we worthily participate in temple ordinances, we will be blessed in this life and blessed with eternal life.