“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Thus teaches Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:9. The things that God has planned for us are more wonderful than we can imagine. As wonderful as what we have received is, there is much more, and much greater, to come, both in this life and the next.
How should we respond, then, when we are looking for something that God has not yet given us? Should we set aside our yearnings, telling ourselves to be content with what he has given us? Response round one: Yes and no.
Yes, in the sense that we should make sure that we acknowledge the goodness of what he has already given us. It is “unto him that receiveth” that God “will give more” (2 Nephi 28:30). I take this to mean that we need to receive, appreciate, and hearken to what we have been given, in order to be deserving of more. This appreciation or gratitude implies seeing the good and finding satisfaction in it, not over-emphasizing what we may think is missing. We need to make sure that our longing for what we don’t have does not overshadow our gratitude for what we do have, (which is not to say I always manage it).
On the other hand, also no: “from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” So, we should not try to tell ourselves to simply be content with what we have received. Indeed, if we are not hungry for more, perhaps that itself implies a failure to appreciate just how wonderful the things are that we have received. Jesus said, “Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9).
Response round two: Yes and no. Sometimes what we are looking for has in fact already been given to us, and so if we look for something we haven’t been given to fill the craving, we are looking beyond the mark. This happened to the Jews, as Jacob describes: “behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it” (Jacob 4:14). So, sometimes in fact we should be content with what we have been given, and the fact that we are discontent means we do not realize and do not appreciate what we have. If we, ungrateful, look for something else, we may actually receive it . . . but this will cause us to fall, not advance.
The fact is that hardly any of us have properly received what we have already been given. How many of us have completely studied, assimilated, hearkened to, and put into practice the full measure of the truth and light we have been given? There are probably several books of the Bible I have never even read all the way through, for starters, let alone understood. For me, to read even those parts of the scriptures that I have read many times and taught Sunday School or missionary lessons about is an experience of joy mixed with pain, because as I read, I am continually reminded of how much there is in them that I have not sufficiently pondered and prayed about, how much that I encounter more or less as words on a page, not having yet reached the point of having their meaning delivered to me in the fuller way that comes through the Spirit. Perhaps worse, I am continually reminded of insights that I have been granted, which I have not built upon as I would like to and have not shared. My understanding has been transformed so many times, on so many points, that I am certain there are great treasures in the words of the prophets, of whose presence I am as yet totally oblivious. To seek them out and savor them is a task for a lifetime. So, we should be very careful that our seeking for something new does not simply become one more confirmation of how shallow our reception is, of the gifts we’ve already been given. If our reception of God’s previous gifts is shallow, we are certainly not ready for more.
To suggest that what we are seeking must be something new, something we have not already been given, then, is to run a serious risk of arrogance. To retain our longing, asking and seeking properly, then, is not to say that we need something new, but to say that we are still searching, both searching more deeply in what we already have, and keeping our eyes and ears open for more.
We do believe, though, that God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Article of Faith 9). So, to insist that everything we are looking for is to be found in what we have already been given would also be a mistake. To say this would seem to be to follow those who say, “All is well in Zion . . . We have received, and we need no more!” (2 Nephi 28: 21, 27). These run the risk of losing what they already have, perhaps because they misunderstand it as the whole edifice, rather than a foundation on which to build. God clarifies: “because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever” (2 Nephi 29: 9).
So, when we feel there is something missing from what we have received, it is appropriate to let that feeling work in us. It should push us to search more diligently what we have received, to more fully understand and receive it, and perhaps to discover treasures in it that we never expected. It should also push us to ask and pray for anything further in that vein that the Lord may see fit to give us. Both elements are important to the full, faithful approach. We may ask rather specifically for what we want, but must be open to God’s wisdom as to what we actually need, and to his way of providing it.
What happens, though, if we insist that God should give us the specific thing we want, in the specific way we want? Well, to put it simply, we risk getting something that is vastly inferior to what God actually has in mind for us. Think of Joseph’s experience with the 116 pages, just for instance. He thought he was going to get greater support for his translation effort by lending them out; what he actually got was about the most serious setback possible: losing all his work up to that point, and in such a way that he would never be allowed to translate that portion again. We need to be careful what we ask for, and how. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” This means that if something *has* entered our heart as the thing we want, there is a very good chance that it is not nearly as great as what God wants to give us, if we will only listen and wait in patient faith. In a case like this, if we get what we thought of, instead of what God is thinking of, we are losing out, big time. To receive the gifts of God, infinitely greater than the gifts a human being would concoct, is the reward of faith.