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S. Michael Wilcox: 10 Ways to Get More from Your Temple Experience

This list of tips will help any member have more powerful and personal experiences within the walls of the Lord's house.

Most of us have a vivid memory of the first time we went to the temple to receive our endowments. I was a newly called missionary and had traveled to the Los Angeles Temple. I did not know what to expect. Although some aspects of my own endowment were wonderfully edifying to me, much of it was confusing. I left bewildered and a little frightened. I have since discovered that my experience was not unique. I have also discovered why my first experience was not all what I had anticipated. At the time, I did not understand the manner in which the Lord teaches His children in His house. Had I understood, my anxiety and confusion would have disappeared, even though my comprehension level might have remained the same.

We are all weak and cannot understand all that the Father has taught us. Occasionally we feel a bit guilty for not comprehending more, but guilt is not the proper response. Occasionally we feel apathetic and attend the temple less often, or we do not pay attention when we do come. These things are even more incorrect.

What must we do? Here are 10 pieces of advice to help when you’re not feeling inspired in the temple:

1. Make an Effort to Learn

In the temple, the Spirit is the teacher. It instructs us, most frequently, through the symbols that comprise the endowment. We must be alert and pay attention to all that we see and hear, thus allowing the Spirit to teach us and to bring to us understanding. If we go to the temple and just sit, without making an effort to learn, we will miss most of the greatest blessings the temple has to offer.

“When you return [to the temple],” Elder David B. Haight taught, “come with an open, seeking, contrite heart, and allow the Spirit to teach you by revelation what the symbols can mean to you.”

2. Don’t Get Hung Up on Form

Elder John A. Widtsoe explained, “The endowment itself is symbolic; it is a series of symbols of vast realities, too vast for full understanding. Those who go through the temple and come out feeling that the service is unbeautiful have been so occupied with the outward form as to fail to understand the inner meaning. It is the meaning of things that counts in life. . . .

“Temple worship implies a great effort of mind and concentrationif we are to understand the mighty symbols that pass in review before us. Everything must be arranged to attune our hearts, our minds, and our souls to the work.”

3. Apply Principles from Baptism and the Sacrament

Before we even go to the temple, we are introduced to symbolic ordinances. Through them we are shown how to respond to symbolic language. The sacrament and baptism are such ordinances.

Baptism is an excellent ordinance to study to give us a better idea of how the Lord teaches in the temple. What does baptism symbolize? Some may say baptism is symbolic of a cleansing. Others may teach that baptism symbolized a birth. Others might add that baptism is a symbolic burial.

Is baptism a bath, a birth, or a burial? It is all of them. Because such symbols convey multiple meanings, they will, if we continue to ponder them, constantly edify and instruct us throughout our lives.

In the sacrament, the bread reminds us of the body of the Savior, and the water of His blood. When we partake, we think of His loving sacrifice in our behalf and of our covenants that make His sacrifice efficacious in our lives. The bread and water can also remind us that Jesus was “the bread of life” and that He is the source of “living water.” Our focus, therefore, is centered on the meaning of the symbol and not on the symbol itself. When we understand the meanings of temple symbols, their outward forms become beautiful, just as the sacrament is beautiful and edifying to them.

4. Study the Scriptures

Occasionally I have been asked if I can recommend a good book or article to help people understand the temple ordinances. I have always answered, “Yes! There is a wonderful manual written to explain even the most subtle meanings of the endowment, and it is readily available to you.” Excitedly the person takes out pencil and paper to write down the title. “The manual is the holy scriptures,” I say. Disappointed, the person puts down the pencil and says, “No, really. Is there any other book you would recommend?”

What good is it to read anything else about the temple if we have not studied deeply the greatest source of information available? Surely the prominent placement of the scriptures in the temple is a hint to us of their value in comprehending all that we see and hear within its walls. The scriptures will reveal deeper and broader meanings about the temple. Within their pages are the keys to much of the temple symbolism.

Every time we are told to “seek . . . diligently . . . words of wisdom . . . out of the best books,” it is in the context of temple worship. The Lord is suggesting that insights to temple truths lie in a fuller and more intense study of the scriptures.

5. Make Temple Service a Priority

How high in our priorities have we placed the temple? Have we placed it as high as President Benson and other prophets who preceded him? He is not alone in his emphasis on the importance of the work that takes place in the House of the Lord. Holy men have so testified throughout the ages, and particularly during this last dispensation, for “it is in strict accordance with the divine will that the great work for the salvation of the dead was one assigned to those who lived in the dispensation of the fullness of times.”

Let us review the emphasis we place on this edifying work.

6. Avoid Things Offensive to the Spirit

Avoiding entertainments, environments, or activities that offend the Spirit helps prepare the mind for revelation. It would be inconsistent, for example, on a Friday night to attend a movie that contained crude or vulgar language or suggestive or violent scenes and then on Saturday morning hope to receive insight in the temple. 

With these distractions of worldliness less dominant, the Spirit provides more and more influence in our thoughts, desires, and appetites, bending them to the will of the Lord and making us receptive to further instruction.

7. Adjust Your Attitude

Perhaps King David best described the desired attitude toward the temple in the psalms. It is an attitude based on love of the temple, not a duty or responsibility placed upon his shoulders. The sweetness of David’s words is an example to us all. “One thing have I desired of the Lord,” David sang, “that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). In a later psalm he wrote, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). David’s soul, with that of all the prophets, “longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lords,” for those courts are “amiable” (Psalms 84:1-2). Should not all of our souls also long for them?

8. Bring Family Names

Personal genealogical research also seems to prepare our minds for revelation. It helps create an environment that is receptive to spiritual things. I have noticed that when I am doing the work for one of my own or my wife’s ancestors, the veil seems thinner, and the inspiration flows more readily. Perhaps that is the result of a deeper commitment to the ordinances because they are being performed for one of our own people. Our concentration seems focused a bit more sharply. At times, we may even feel the presence of our ancestors beside us in the temple.

9. Use Jesus’ Formula for Worship

A powerful and practical formula for temple worship is found in the Savior’s words to the Nephites when He visited them after His Resurrection. The Savior tells us to do five things, and the first is very easy: “Therefore, [1] go ye unto your homes, and [2] ponder upon the things which I have said, and [3] ask of the Father, in my name, that we may understand, and [4] prepare your minds for the morrow, and [5] I come unto you again” (3 Nephi 17:3).

If we do not understand all we see and hear in the temple, we must not be fearful, guilty, or apathetic. We must go home, ponder, pray, prepare, and then return.

10. Be Patient

After presenting us with symbolic ordinances before we ever go to the temple, after giving us symbolic images and language in the scriptures, after presenting us with some easier symbols to understand, and after explaining the meaning of others that are more difficult, the Lord in essence says to us: “Do you now comprehend how I teach in my house? I have tried to prepare you for temple worship for a lifetime. Now that you have an idea of how I teach, spend the rest of your life frequently returning to learn all that my house can teach you. Ponder and pray until you understand the symbols I have not explained. Let every word, every act, and all you see be an opportunity for insight and edification.”

If we approach temple worship this way, every visit is an invitation for discovery. It requires effort and concentration, but the Lord assures us we will not be disappointed.

Learn to Love the Temple

I have come to love the temple very much. If someone had told me years ago, when I left the temple after my own endowments, that temple worship would become a central love of my life, I simply would not have believed it was possible. Yet, through the years, I have felt the waters of Ezekiel’s river rise continually in my life.

I would like to conclude the thoughts that I have tried to share on the temple with a testimony. No matter what we read about the temple, our experience there will always be personal. Into each of our lives it will bring unique and beautiful blessings. That is part of its power—it meets our individual needs so perfectly. As its fruits become sweeter in our lives, we feel deep gratitude and realize more fully why the Lord would call the temple “A place of thanksgiving to all Saints” (D&C 97:13). 

Lead image from Thinkstock

House of Glory: Finding Personal Meaning in the Temple

Get more from your temple experience with S. Michael Wilcox's House of Glory: Finding Personal Meaning in the Temple. 

Michael Wilcox identifies the blessing that temple work brings to our everyday lives. He discusses the temple as a house of learning where we can understand the most powerful principles of the gospel and receive inspiration for our families and ourselves. He explains how the temple is a house of refuge where we can escape the trials and troubles of the world. He defines the phrase “house of order” and talks about how the temple as a house of glory, describing the wonderful experiences that come to those who serve there, and especially to those who labor for their kindred dead.

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