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The Book of Mormon is loaded with powerful messages that are often skipped over or that remain in obscurity to the casual reader. This week’s lesson has one of those.
I absolutely love Nephi’s response to Lehi’s dream or vision of the Tree of Life. In telling us about his own personal feelings, Nephi gives each of us a pattern to follow to obtain our fondest dreams and receive the richest blessings of heaven.
Let’s look closely.
“And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.” (1 Nephi 10:17, emphasis added)
Nephi desired to see and hear and know all the things that his father had seen and heard and knew. Is there anything wrong with that? Nephi tells us that this is available to all.
Joseph Smith taught: “This principle ought (in its proper place) to be taught, for God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them.”[i] What? Is this too hard a principle to take? Is this our approach to learning in the gospel of Jesus Christ? Do we also want to see and hear and know the things that Lehi experienced? Do we want to see and hear and know the things the Prophet Joseph experienced? Do we think it is beyond our abilities or our privileges?
The Book of Mormon teaches us that we are encouraged and invited to follow the example of the Prophet Nephi: “…which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men. For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him. For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.” (1 Nephi 11:17-19)
How could Nephi be more clear? We are all invited to diligently seek the Lord and have the mysteries of God unfolded unto us by the power of the Holy Ghost. “And by the power of the Holy Ghost,” Moroni taught, “ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:5). All things!
As another witness, Elder Neal A. Maxwell emphasized this: “Astonishingly, to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is clear that the Father and the Son are giving away the secrets of the universe! If only you and I can avoid being offended by their generosity.”[ii] Is this a great gift that only a few are accessing? Desire
Nephi now shows us the follow through to obtain his righteous desires, and he gives the exact way he obtained one of the greatest visions recorded in holy writ. Let’s explore this pattern carefully. It is all located in one verse:
“For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.” (1 Nephi 11:1, emphasis added)
Nephi says that we first need to desire something, bring our desires to the forefront of our prayers. In this case he wanted to hear and see and know all that his father had experienced. The brother of Jared also was taught the same pattern by the Lord: “O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.” (See Ether 3:2, emphasis added) What? We are commanded to come to the Lord with our desires? That’s amazing.
Mormon gives us another witness when the Lord visited the Nephites. The people began to pray, “And they did pray for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them.” (3 Nephi 19:9, emphasis added) And did the Lord deliver in this case. Yes!
Hyrum Smith was taught the same thing by the Lord: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, even as you desire of me so it shall be done unto you; and, if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation.” (D&C 11:8, emphasis added) Was Hyrum able to do much good in this generation? Yes!
What is the lesson here? We are clearly taught that our desires are precious to the Lord and He wants us to bring our desires to Him. What is it we truly desire? Do we desire great knowledge? Do we desire the greatest blessings of heaven to be poured out upon our families? Do we desire the Lord to intervene in the heart of a wandering child or grandchild? Do we desire our health to change for the better or for the health of a loved one to be improved? Do you desire to get out from under tremendous debt? There is something in the process of bringing our desires to the Lord that activates blessings we would not have otherwise received.
The pattern of obtaining this great vision (and for us, the pattern of receiving personal revelation) is continued in Nephi’s words: “…and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me…” We must also come with much faith to the Lord. We must believe that He has the power to give us the blessings we seek or give us the desires of our heart. It is required of us to come to Him knowing that He has the ability to deliver. Do we believe that He can?
“And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.” (Moroni 7:33) Does that very statement increase our faith?
I love the story of Enos. We all know it. He prayed all day and when the night came he did still raise his voice up unto the heavens. His desire was to have his sins forgiven (a wonderful desire). Watch how his faith plays a powerful role here:
“And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.” (Enos 1:5,6, emphasis added)
If we absolutely know that God cannot lie, we can exercise great faith in Him! Is God trustworthy? Yes. Will He deliver on His promises? Yes. Does He hear our prayers? Yes. Our faith in Him should become unwavering.
Jacob, the brother of Nephi, is another witness to these things:
“Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.” (Jacob 4:6, emphasis added) This is the kind of belief and faith and power that is available to each of us. The invitations in The Book of Mormon are plentiful.
Let’s continue with Nephi’s pattern: “…as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.” (1 Nephi 11:1, emphasis added) Now we see that pondering plays a key role in obtaining great revelation.
In our busy work-a-day world, do we take the time (and it does take time) to ponder? Pondering is often the most forgotten part of our study of the gospel. We think if we stop from our reading goals, plowing through the scriptures at a sure and steady clip, we will not be doing what we planned to do. Perhaps that’s the point: we are not necessarily to do what we had planned. With pondering, we can come to the place where we do what He has planned.
Joseph and Sidney taught us the pattern:
“For while we were doing the work of translation, which the Lord had appointed unto us, we came to the twenty-ninth verse of the fifth chapter of John, which was given unto us as follows—Speaking of the resurrection of the dead, concerning those who shall hear the voice of the Son of Man: And shall come forth; they who have done good, in the resurrection of the just; and they who have done evil, in the resurrection of the unjust. Now this caused us to marvel, for it was given unto us of the Spirit. And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about.” (D&C 76: 15-19, emphasis added) Meditation and pondering preceded the reception of the great vision of the three degrees of glory.
Joseph F. Smith taught the same pattern as his Uncle Joseph and Nephi:
“On the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures; And reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world; And the great and wonderful love made manifest by the Father and the Son in the coming of the Redeemer into the world; That through his atonement, and by obedience to the principles of the gospel, mankind might be saved… As I pondered over these things which are written, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.” (D&C 138:1-4,11, emphasis added) Pondering preceded the reception of the great vision of the redemption of the dead.
Before Jesus left the Nephites after His first visit to them He taught them this: “Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.” (3 Nephi 17:3, emphasis added) Pondering was a critical part that would help the people understand all they had just personally received from the Lord.
The great promise of Moroni for obtaining a witness from the Spirit that The Book of Mormon is true includes this pattern:
“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.” (Moroni 10:3, emphasis added) Pondering precedes our reception of a testimony of the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon.
The Question of the Spirit
Nephi was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain where he had never before been (perhaps a spiritual height he had never obtained as well as a physical mountain) and the Spirit came to him. Pay attention here. This is the sweetest part of the lesson and it’s contained in just four words:
“And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?” (1 Nephi 11:2, emphasis added) Can you believe it? Is that the most exciting question ever? Here is a mortal standing before the mighty Holy Spirit and the Spirit says to the mortal, in our vernacular, “What is it you want?” That is a cart blanche question!
If we believe as Enos believed (that God could not lie) we know that the question was real and sincere and would absolutely be answered. And it was for Nephi. And he gives us but a very brief account of his vision in a mere 131 verses! Most of the vision is withheld from us, but it was not from Nephi. Nephi obtained his desires from the Holy Spirit, from an angel, from a series of visions given to him, from sights and sounds of future happenings. It was glorious for him and the pattern of receiving our own personal revelation is clear.
Remember, God the eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ are giving away the secrets of the universe! Let us indeed not be offended by their generosity.
[i] Smith, Joseph Fielding. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1938, p. 149.
[ii] Maxwell, Neal A. “Meek and Lowly.” BYU Speeches of the Year, 1986-87.