The Lord has certain expectations of us that require a great expenditure of faith and effort. Abinadi in the court of King Noah (Mosiah 12-17), John the Baptist in Herod’s prison (Matthew 14:3-10), the three daughters of Onitah on the altar in the land of Chaldea (Abraham 1:11), serving a mission in strange lands among unknown people and unfamiliar customs, and a multitude of others are examples that come readily to mind. Even the youth of our age confront the rampant rising of evil and the pressure to conform to the world (see Romans 12:2).
Reflecting on such experiences has brought me again and again to a passage of scripture in Alma 37: “O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way” (verse 46).
Easiness? The easiness of the way? “Do you think this is easy?” the Anti-Nephi-Lehies might have asked as they watched the unforgiving hordes of their bitter brethren advancing toward them with sword and scimitar.
“Do you think this is easy?” Joseph might have asked on the way to Carthage to turn himself over to his enemies.
“Do you think this is easy?” Daniel might have asked as the door to the den of lions was opened and he was dropped in.
“Do you think this is easy?” Joseph, son of Jacob, might have asked after many years as a slave and a prisoner.
The simple answer is “no,” of course. However, a closer look at the text of the warning from Alma to Helaman indicates that Alma did not challenge his son to avoid slothfulness because of the easiness of the destination and the events that might occur there. He challenged him not to be slothful because of the easiness of the way.
Arriving at divinely dictated mortal destinations may be terrifying, even deadly, and anything but easy, but it can always be easy to know the way the Lord expects us to travel to those destinations.
In the chapter in which Alma gives his testimony to Helaman about being slothful and about the easiness of the way, he illustrates his message by discussing the Liahona.
The Liahona was an incredible little faith-based compass that showed Lehi’s people the way to the most fertile places (1 Nephi 16:16) in the wilderness, and enabled them to traverse one of the most desolate sand-deserts on the planet, the Empty Quarter. But the truth has to be that if, in the midst of scrub brush and sand (there are no rivers), one discovers an arrow placed along the trail by the Lord, it is easy to know the way to go.
The Liahona appeared at the door of Lehi’s tent on the morning that he and his people were commanded to depart from the Valley of Lemuel and proceed on their journey to the Promised Land. “And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness” (1 Nephi 16:10).
They took their tents and their provisions, and, following the directions of the Liahona, took their journey toward a place they called Shazer. Somewhere near the borders of the Red Sea, or after they turned eastward, their troubles began. It might have happened like this:
Lehi arose one morning and checked the spindles, the little arrows of the Liahona, and announced the day’s route of travel. “Today,” he might have said, “we go that way,” pointing to the southwest. Laman or Lemuel or one of the sons of Ishmael might have looked carefully in the indicated direction and observed only desert plants and dryness. But to the northwest, the distant shimmer of water and the green splash of palms at a rare desert oasis beckoned.
It is almost possible to hear one of those recalcitrant boys objecting loudly. “That way? That way? Father, look over there. Water and shade and perhaps a date palm or two. You can’t be serious about going southwest!”
One day, unwilling or unable to override those strident objections, they followed their inclinations rather than the arrows. After all, they might have rationalized, if we are wrong, the Liahona can get us back on the correct path tomorrow. It always pointed the way. It was fairly simple to look and to follow the little arrows. But did they have to follow every day, even when their own eyes and experiences told them there was a more rewarding way? They knew the Liahona was a miracle, a remarkable, brass sphere made in a manner no man could imitate, but it was only a small metal ball, whose instructions were generally unaccompanied by divine voices or manifestations. And it was not incomprehensible nor unfathomable in its nature. Alma tells us it was “termporal” (Alma 37:43). There are in fact fascinating historical insights into what is called arrow divination among the ancient Bedouins. Dr Hugh Nibley offers an interesting commentary on this in an article called “The Liahona’’s Cousins,” in the February 1961 Improvement Era, beginning on page 87).
Aside from the fact that it was a “round ball of curious workmanship; and . . . was of fine brass,” it contained “two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.” It also presented written messages from time to time. Still the compass is described as a small and simple thing, not designed to inspire awe and wonder, but to help them go the best way.
But those directions only came in response to the faith and diligence and heed given to the little arrows (1 Nephi 16:28). Thus we understand that the Liahona worked only according to the will and power of God, and the willingness of the travelers to give heed.
One day the spiritual leaders of the group might have agreed to a short detour to an apparently more inviting destination. Perhaps it happened several times until the compass ceased working as it had before.
These observations bring us to the pivotal point of this lesson. How did the Liahona work? The relevant passages of scripture are these:
1: “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them” (1 Nephi 16:28)”
2: “The ball or director, which led our fathers through the wilderness . . . was prepared by the hand of the Lord that thereby they might be led, every one according to the heed and diligence which they gave unto him” (Mosiah 1:16).
- Alma explains the working of the Liahona with this observation: “And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done” (Alma 37:40).
To simplify this discussion, let us ask the question about the Liahona in this way: How did Lehi’s people exercise faith “that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go”?
By going that way! This is a matter of supreme simplicity. I have faith that certain anti-biotics will help cure this infection. Therefore . . . Or, I I have faith that this diet will help me be healthier. Therefore . . . Or, I I have faith that obeying traffic laws will help me be safer on the road. Therefore . . . Or, I I have faith that the Liahona will show me the way to proceed in this terrifying wilderness. Therefore . . .
“Because those miracles were worked by small means . . . [Lehi’s people] were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey; Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions” (Alma 37:41-42). In fact they “did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 17:4).
Alma instructed Helaman in the application of these principles his own life, the lives of his people, and our lives.
Here are his instructions:
“And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual. For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the aword of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land. And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise. O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever” (Alma 37:43 – 46).
We must look for the arrows, the pointers, the spindles, at every crossroad, at every decision point with eternal implications, “Which way do the little arrows point?”
Here are some related questions.
How do we exercise faith in the prophets? How do we exercise faith in the scriptures? How do we exercise faith in the value of General Conference, family prayer, or family scripture study?
And finally, this question: On Monday night, where do the arrows point? To Family Home Evening of course.
‘With this program comes the promise from the prophets, the living prophets, that if parents will gather their children about them once a week and teach the gospel, those children in such families will not go astray” (Boyd K. Packer: The Improvement Era, December, 1970, p. 108).
Of course, Lucifer does not want us to follow those arrows.
Note this from the Ensign:
“The designation of Monday night for family home evening came in September 1970. The Priesthood Bulletin announced that Ain a recent meeting the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve approved the setting aside of Monday night for holding family home evening throughout the entire Church. Encouragement is now given to stakes, missions, wards, and branches to reserve Monday evening for family home evening . . . Families [should] be left free from Church activities so that they can meet together in family home evening@ (Rex W. Allred, AI Have a Question,@ Ensign, Jan. 1987, 52).
But notice what else happened that same month of September, 1970.
“Monday Night Football first aired on ABC on September 21, 1970, with a match between the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns, in Cleveland, Ohio. The show has run ever since, and the NFL has obliged by scheduling its best teams and biggest stars for that night, so as to gain maximum exposure” (http://en. Wikipedia.org/wiki/Monday_Night_ football).
It is hard to imagine, with the continuing war Lucifer wages against families, that such a correlation of events was a coincidence. Dallin H. Oaks said, “Satan=s most strenuous opposition is directed at whatever is most important to the Father=s plan” (Dallin H. Oaks, AThe Great Plan of Happiness,@ Ensign, Nov. 1993, 72).
Finally, then, the issue is this one. Will we follow the arrows of covenant and commandment in the daily journeys of our lives? Will we go the way they direct us to go, which is almost always easy to perceive, and in spite of the danger, difficulty, and inconvenience that might be waiting and the end of the path?
Years ago I studied a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier in a college class. The subject of the elegy was Abraham Davenport, speaker of the House of Representatives in Massachusetts in 1789. In May of that year, there was a total eclipse of the sun. Chickens went to roost at 2:00 in the afternoon. Many, including the members of the legislature, thought the Second Coming was at hand and wanted to go home. But Abraham chose to go the way the arrows pointed.
Meanwhile in the old State House, dim as ghosts
Sat the lawgivers of Connecticut,
Trembling beneath their legislative robes.
“It is the Lord’s Great Day! Let us adjourn,”
Some said; and then, as if with one accord,
All eyes were turned to Abraham Davenport.
He rose, slow cleaving with his steady voice
The intolerable hush. “This well may be
The Day of Judgement which the world awaits;
But be it so or not, I only know
My present duty and my Lord’s command
To occupy till he come. So at the post
Where he hath set me in his providence,
I choose for one to meet him face to face,–
No faithless servant frightened from my task,
But ready when the Lord of the harvest calls;
And therefore, with all reverence, I would say,
Let God do his work, we will see to ours.
“Bring in the candles.” And they brought them in.
. . . .
And there he stands in memory to this day,
Erect, self-poised, a rugged face, half seen
Against the background of unnatural dark,
A witness to the ages as they pass,
That simple duty hath no place for fear.
(John Greenleaf Whittier, ed. Horace E. Scudder;
Houghton, Mifflin Co., NY, 1894, p. 259).