Laman and Lemuel’s response to Nephi’s beautiful explanation is “Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.” (1)
I guess they didn’t like being reminded about the justice of God and the hell prepared for those who hardened their hearts.
Nephi says he knew “I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified.” (2) He isn’t apologetic. He doesn’t water down the truth or twist it to make them feel good, like many do in the world today. He says:
The guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.”1 Nephi 16:2
Am I upset by what God’s prophets say today? If so, maybe I need to seek to soften and humble my heart through prayer & repentance.
I experienced this in college. Something I heard in a talk offended me. The message upset me. I prayed silently for God to help me know if the doctrine was true or not, and if it was, to help me accept it (because I wasn’t having good feelings about it right then). By the end of the talk (maybe 15 minutes), my whole attitude changed. I felt inspired by the message, not upset at all. I couldn’t believe how my feelings had totally switched. I couldn’t have done that on my own. God softened my heart that day to accept His doctrine and not take the truth to be hard.
Faith isn’t a one-time choice
Laman and Lemuel humble themselves after Nephi speaks, and this makes him super happy. Their faith and humility teeter-totters wildly throughout this story.
The choice to follow God isn’t made only once.
It’s made daily, even minute by minute, especially during hard minutes (or hard months or years). We must recommit constantly to do His will, not ours, or we can easily falter, like Laman and Lemuel did, until eventually, they totally rejected God and stopped trying.
Gratitude or Bad Attitude.
Laman and Lemuel seemed to focus always on what they had lost. And when they did focus on spiritual things, instead of concentrating on their Savior, they would get tripped up on doctrines, because they didn’t try to understand how their Savior played into the plan.
Nephi, in contrast, focused on the Savior, and because he did, he always felt “blessed of the Lord exceedingly.” (8)
The 3 brothers all lived the same life. Same family. Same trials. Same teachings. It was how they each reacted to their circumstances that made the difference.
Lehi has another dream where God tells him to take his family farther into the wilderness. The next morning, he finds a round brass ball of curious workmanship outside his tent. It had two spindles, resembling a fancy compass. One pointed the way they should go. They prepare their belongings and gather seeds of every kind to take with them on their journey.
How does this apply to me?
Several times, my husband and I have felt prompted to move. One time was especially hard, because we really loved where we lived. We had close friends, fun places close by to hike and mountain bike, a home and yard we adored. Our children were comfortable and happy in school with their friends and extracurricular activities. We had the ideal life where we totally belonged to our neighborhood, church ward, and community. It seemed foolish to leave that all behind…and many people thought we were foolish.
But we, like Lehi, had received a witness that we should move. So we did…and I grieved all I had to leave behind. I totally understand why Laman and Lemuel mourned. We had to go into a metaphorical wilderness where we would be on our own. No one would know us. No one would care about us. We’d have to start all over in forging a place in our new ‘world’.
Lehi kept to “the most fertile parts of the wilderness.” (16) When we moved, I knew we’d no longer have close friends around to bolster us. I knew none of my neighbors. I had to be proactive in keeping in “fertile” ground so our testimonies could continue to grow and we wouldn’t become bitter by all the changes.
So, even though my new church ward seemed very different than my last one, and truthfully, made me uncomfortable (not because of the people, but because I was so caught up in missing my last ward family full of supportive good friends), we went anyway. It wasn’t always inspiring. Different personalities. Different ways of doing things. Feeling alone in the midst of a ton of people. But I knew church was fertile ground. So we continued to attend, hoping someday we’d make new friends and feel more at home. And though it wasn’t fast by any means (and I’m still a work in progress), we eventually felt more at home.
The Liahona led Lehi’s family into the most fertile parts of their wilderness. They had no idea where they were going on a map, but God knew where they needed to go. And they trusted Him.
We should trust that His Church is a good, fertile place to be, that will help us grow and become more like Him…if we stay there.
Even if you’re uncomfortable at church and feel you don’t have any friends…go anyway.
- Maybe become the friend you wish others would be to you.
- Don’t choose to be offended or hurt by lack of friendliness. Others around you might feel the same way you do and are waiting for someone else to reach out to them!
- Or maybe someone truly is grouchy and unfriendly…but go anyway. Stay to the most fertile parts of life. Church is fertile ground.
Oh no! I broke my bow.
Out in the lonely wilderness, Nephi breaks his steel bow. His brothers’ bows lose their spring and they can’t catch any food. Laman and Lemuel immediately begin complaining against the Lord. They’ve left their home and come out into the wilderness according to God’s will, but He isn’t making it easy for them, which ticks them off.
After we made that hard move from a place our family adored (Still adores, even though we’re not there), life was not just hard in our new place. It was grueling and miserable. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. I write fiction, and I’ve had a reviewer or two write up negative reviews on a book saying it wasn’t realistic because so many bad things happened to the characters. I had to laugh at that, because I guess my family’s life is unrealistic, because it didn’t just rain, it poured (or, as my siblings love to tease me, it was a deluge—I taught them that word and they think it’s hilarious).
God didn’t send us here to walk through daisies (although it’s nice when we can at times).
He sent us here to be tested. And testing is painful and yucky and hard. During a test, you get grumpy at the best of times and bitter at the worst. I remember getting super grumpy and asking “why?” over and over in my prayers.
I’d beg God not to send anymore “tests” because I was drowning. And what do you know, something else would go wrong that very day. Sad news from a family member. A car breaking down. A physical ailment that became debilitating. Crushing news from another family member. More crushing news from yet another family member. Job troubles. Depression. You name it. Life was dark.
In moments of reflection, I would ask God why He was punishing us when we had done as He’d asked. Why couldn’t He give us a breather?
And when I asked those questions, something else would go wrong.
I thought I was at the end of what I could endure multiple times…and He kept pushing me. Like a weightlifter pushing muscles to exhaustion to make them stronger, God kept pushing us past our exhaustion point…helping us to become stronger for the next challenge. At the time though, I just thought He was being extra mean.
Now, looking back at that horrid 18-month period, I am beyond grateful for the strength I gained from what we went through. I’m never going to ask for trials (they’ll come no matter what), but I have learned that they always benefit me in the long run if I push through them with faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I couldn’t have gained the trust I did in Him unless I had been pushed to that lowest of low points…and then pushed even lower.
I’ve heard people say God will never give us more than we can handle.
I don’t believe that.
If we could handle things on our own, we wouldn’t NEED Him.
So we do get more than we can handle, because that is when we have to turn to Him. That’s when we literally go to our knees, begging Him to help us. To save us. And because He is our Savior, Christ is always ready with an outstretched Hand. That doesn’t mean He will take away our trials, but He will let us lean on Him until we can get through it. He will give us strength or hope to get through another terrible day, knowing He is by our side. Knowing He loves and cares for us beyond anything we can imagine. Knowing that He is helping us to BECOME like He is.
What is our gut reaction when things become desperate?
In the desperate hunger Lehi’s family faced, even Lehi, a good, spiritual man (a prophet, even), began “to murmur against the Lord his God; yea, and they were all exceedingly sorrowful, even that they did murmur against the Lord.” (20)
This didn’t mean they were wicked. We all have days when we murmur, complain, or mourn deeply about how life is going. But if we don’t check this tendency and repent of it as soon as we become aware of our attitude, we can be led into forbidden paths.
Murmuring and complaining don’t necessarily show a sinful heart. It shows we are spiritually immature and growing. So when we realize our “immaturity,” be grown up enough to say “enough is enough” and STOP.
Lehi didn’t keep murmuring. He repents after Nephi (who seems to be the only one who didn’t complain) talks to them. Lehi learns that the curious ball (Liahona) works “according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto [it].” (28)
The Holy Ghost is our Liahona.
If we stay humble, we can be led and guided on our life’s journey. God will help us stay in the most fertile parts that will nourish our spirits and bring us closer to Him. He will teach us great lessons about others and ourselves as we serve Him.
The Spirit cannot point us in the right direction unless we:
- have faith in Jesus Christ
- are diligent in keeping His commandments (careful and consistent hard work or effort)
- heed spiritual direction (the attention or focus we give to what He prompts us to do (or not do).
The root word HEED comes from German, meaning to guard. We must exercise faith, apply that faith diligently in desire and action, and then guard that word through obedience, showing that we are paying attention and aren’t just clinging to His word, but holding fast to it. We love it; we embrace it; we cherish light and truth.
The Liahona gave them new writing when they needed it, “which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord..” (29)
I think spiritual promptings can be plain only if we are in tune with the Lord, wanting to do His will. His word can be “changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it.” (28)
Power of small & simple things
Nephi says about the liahona: “And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.” (29) Sometimes God’s ways might look simple—like Moses holding up the brass serpent to heal whoever would look up. But hopefully, we aren’t as obtuse as the children of Israel and think looking to God is too easy and won’t work. It will, if we put our faith in trust in God.
The Liahona tells Nephi to go up into a mountain, and he gives heed to the simple prompting and finds game there to feed his family.
If we heed spiritual promptings, we can feed our families as well—on the words of eternal life that will never let us hunger again. Don’t discount something God says in His scriptures or by the mouth of His living prophets because it might seem small or simple. There is power in being obedient in the most small and simple ways.
God might not ask you to move a mountain. But He will probably often prompt you to smile at someone you pass by or offer a helping hand to someone in need.
One person can make a difference
Nephi didn’t complain. He acts in faith, making another bow out of wood (which had to take time). Then he goes to his father and asks where he should go to find food. This shows respect and gives his father the benefit to repent and change his attitude so he can lead their family again in righteousness. Nephi was wise beyond his years. His family humbled themselves because of Nephi’s words and faithful action at this critical juncture.
One person can affect the whole family for good or bad.
- Laman did it for bad many times.
- Nephi lifted them up to higher spheres with his faith in Christ.
Nephi saved his family from starvation, but when another bad thing happened (Ishamel dying of old age), Laman and Lemuel and others start murmuring again. Then they take it one step further, playing the blame game and soon deciding to kill their father and brother, who are annoyances in their life.
History is rife with examples of people acting similarly. Something bad happens, they murmur, they blame, and if left unchecked, they eventually want to hurt or kill those they blame for their troubles. Think of the Holocaust during WWII, the genocides in Africa and in the Adriatic States during the 90’s, modern bullying in every form (from the school playground to social media to the highest seats in government).
To get to this extreme point, you have to justify your hate—blame someone else for everything bad in your worldview. Laman and Lemuel accused Nephi of lying to them, of trying to exercise power over them, of deceiving them.
In our world, people stir up hate and fear by blaming others for the problems that trouble us—immigrants, racial minorities, the poor, the rich, the homeless, the uneducated, the educated, the Republicans, the Democrats…and on and on.
And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger.”1 Nephi 16:38
- One person influenced others to hate.
- One person influenced others to be humble and trust in God.
What kind of person will I choose to be? Will I influence others for good or for bad…for love or for hate?
Don’t play the blame game…or the bully game…or the hate game.
Stand on higher ground.