"And it came to pass that again they heard the voice, and they understood it not.
"And again the third time they did hear the voice, and did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came.
"And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard..."
As I read these verses, the Nephites' struggle to understand the Lord as He spoke to them reminded me of learning to recognize the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. The first time the voice spoke to them, the Nephites were distracted. They were conversing with each other, talking about the signs they had just seen. They heard the voice when it spoke to them, but they were unable to comprehend what the voice said.
Mormon describes the voice that spoke to them in such a way that brings to mind the Holy Ghost: the voice was small, but it pierced them to the center; it caused their hearts to burn
Often, when promptings come, we are distracted and fail to really understand that the Spirit is speaking to us. I remember a night many years ago, when my husband and I were getting ready for bed. We were tired and it was late. Suddenly I wondered if he had locked his bike up when he came home that night. His bike was his only source of transportation to work, since I had the car during the day. Being tired, and quite certain that my husband knew how to take care of his bike, I pushed the thought aside, failing to recognize the source of the thought. In the morning, the bike was gone.
The second time the Nephites heard the voice, they again failed to understand what it said. They had yet to put any effort into hearing the voice. I supposed maybe they figured if they heard it again, they'd catch the words. But it didn't work that way for them, and it doesn't work that way when it comes to the Holy Ghost, either.
Sure, no doubt I promised myself to listen better the next time the spirit whispered to me, but unless I was willing to do something to ensure I could hear better, the next time wasn't likely to turn out any different.
The third time the voice spoke, the Nephites were prepared. They were listening, they were focused on the voice by looking toward where it came from, and they were steadfast in their focus. And that time they understood.
When the Holy Ghost speaks to us, we must remember to listen, to set aside those things that would distract us, or convince us that what we're hearing is simply our own mind, not divine guidance. We must be diligent in our listening.
Contrast the story of the stolen bike with another incident. This time, me, my husband, and our two young children were in our living room. The TV was off. I was sitting on the floor preparing for Sunday's lesson, while my husband read to the kids in the overstuffed chair. A strong gust of wind rattled against the windows.
I looked up, noting that the regular windows were closed, but the storm windows were not. Outside, the day was flooded with sunlight; only a small cloud or two floated harmlessly through the sky. But I felt strongly impressed to close the storm windows. The room was quiet and filled with love and the spirit. I recognized the Holy Ghost whispering to me.
Without hesitation, I moved to the windows, closed the storm windows and locked them. I had barely returned to my lesson when a loud thump, followed by the tinkling of shattered glass, filled our quiet room. We turned to the windows that I had just closed and saw that a golf ball had slammed into one of the outside panes, reducing it to tiny pieces. But the storm pane had stopped the ball's trajectory. A path that would have taken it straight to the chair where my husband and children sat. I didn't spend much time reflecting on the damage that ball could have done to one of our small children had it struck either of them. Instead, I thanked the Lord that he had sent us a prompting--and that I had been listening.