Alma 57-59 (Post-dated to maintain order)
Once upon a time, when I was younger, I used to quit things if I couldn’t do them the way I imagined. Whether it was a question of finances or availability, if I couldn’t get the right materials, I wouldn’t do the project. Or, if I could get the materials, I would spend days on a project that really didn’t need expensive handmade paper or a costume or hand squeezed glow-in-the-dark letters. Yes, I once stayed home from school for three says working on a science display board: I had to make my vision come to life. It was an obsession that I continue to work on curtailing by learning how to make due.
Captain Moroni is my hero in this regard. He started out with a decent sized army to fight the Lamanites and Nephite dissenters but, as the war dragged on, his forces diminished, supplies ran low, and his government stopped responding to his pleas for help. Against these odds, Captain Moroni carried on the war successfully by making due. He maximized his available resources for starters. He relied on prophecy, prayer, and ingenuity. He worked closely with his sub-commanders. He worked hard and gave credit to God for his victories.
As I have discovered in my own life, there are important things that need doing with a deadline. I can’t wait for circumstances to be just right nor can I insist on an unnecessary level of presentation or just the right supplies. It’s more important to take action with what you have already.
Celebrating Thanksgiving today put me in mind of gratitude and its supreme importance to this life. When a person is grateful, s/he humbly acknowledges the contributions others make and genuinely appreciates them. King Benjamin taught his people that gratitude constitutes one of the most important ways we can try to repay God for everything He does for us. As I read through verse 38 in Alma 34, I realized that Amulek shaped much of this sermon to the Zoramites around being thankful––why we should be grateful to God and ways we can appropriately show our gratitude.
First, why should we be grateful to God? King Benjamin instilled in his people a sense of their indebtedness to God. At the heart of our debt to God is the willing sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son to “atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 34:8). Jesus’ earthly ministry and “great and last sacrifice” give our lives meaning and preserve the purpose for which we were created: we cannot reach our divine potential and inherit God’s kingdom without access to repentance and forgiveness (v. 16). The Great Plan of Redemption comes as a gift from Christ, for “he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name” (v. 15). Jesus encircles us “in the arms of safety” through His Atonement, saving us from the harsh demands of justice by satisfying them Himself (v. 16). God pours out “mercies and blessings” upon us (v. 38).
We are truly indebted to our Heavenly Father and Jesus for everything they do for us! Our existence is only made possible through them. Rightly did Amulek counsel the Zoramites to “live in thanksgiving daily.” He provides specific instructions for how we can appropriately show our gratitude. We need to believe in Jesus Christ for starters and “exercise [our] faith unto repentance” (v. 15, 17). We need to call on God in prayer everywhere, all the time, every day for mercy, for protection, for strength (v. 17-26). We need to pray for others and deliberately and compassionately serve the poor and needy (v. 27-28). We need to soften our hearts and “prepare to meet God” (v. 31-32). We need to repent, cleanse our souls, and fear God (v. 35-37). We need to be patient and develop “a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions” (v. 41).
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a 2000 Brigham Young University devotional, “Gratitude turns a meal into a feast and drudgery into delight. It softens our grief and heightens our pleasure. It turns the simple and common into the memorable and transcendent. It forges bonds of love and fosters loyalty and admiration” (Wirthlin, “Live in Thanksgiving Daily,” BYU Speeches [Oct 2000]). As we follow Amulek’s counsel to continually demonstrate our gratitude to God, the quality of our lives will improve, our spirits will be strengthened, and our love for God and His children will grow immeasurably.
In Alma 20:29 we learn of the intense suffering of Ammon’s brother Aaron and some of his mission companions. After trying to teach different communities of Lamanites and being harshly rejected, the group ended up in prison where they experienced “hunger, thirst, and all kinds of afflictions.” “All kinds of afflictions.” We each know what it is like to suffer. Whether disappointment, chronic pain, abuse, uncertainty, fear, afflictions hound our mortal lives.
The circumstances of Aaron’s imprisonment and release put me in mind of a phrase from the Doctrine and Covenants: “all things shall work together for your good” (D&C 90:24). The Lord turned a terrible experience for Aaron and his companions to great good for King Lamoni and his father. Lamoni became an independent ruler and was able to proclaim religious freedom in his land. Aaron and his companions were able to teach King Lamoni’s father, help him repent, and then aid him in establishing Christ’s church among his people. Aaron and his brethren eventually “brought many to the knowledge of the truth” (Alma 21:17). If you look at the sequence of events in Alma 19-20, you can see the Lord’s hand.
I don’t want to minimize anyone’s suffering. But I do want infuse hope into your experience. The Lord promises that if you “[s]earch diligently, pray always, and be believing…[and] walk uprightly and remember” your covenants, “all things shall work together for your good” (D&C 90:24). Remember that the Lord is bound by His promises. When we keep the commandments and fulfill our covenants, the Lord can open the windows of heaven. If we will be “patient in all [our] sufferings” like Aaron and his brethren, we can move forward with our lives, trusting in the Lord to turn even the worst suffering into great good. No experience will be wasted. He is a God of miracles who will transform all suffering, all sorrow, ALL afflictions into something of great worth that will be for your good.
There is so much to admire in Alma the elder who risked his life to try and save Abinadi, then defied King Noah to teach the Gospel, and eventually become a prophet in turn. Mosiah 23-24 present a neat parallel to Mosiah 21-22. These chapters compare how Alma’s people deal with the same challenges as Limhi’s people, both groups having become client kingdoms in servitude to the Lamanites. Where Limhi’s people feared the Lamanites and tried to fight their way out of bondage, Alma’s people replaced their fear of man with trust in the Lord, prayers for help, and patience in His plan.
Nine and a half years ago my mission companions and I created a lesson based on Mosiah 24:13-16. The message really touched our friend (for whom we originally planned the lesson): she identified with Alma’s people in bondage (she was in advanced schooling at the time and studying for a difficult exam), and felt strengthened by their example of faith in God, the promise of eventual deliverance, and the help God provided in the midst of their trial while waiting for the right timing.
What I really want to share, though, is that as our week progressed, we taught this lesson no less than four other times in different appointments. It seemed everyone we met with needed this message that week! I have seen this happen in other settings where multiple people I know are going through the same or similar difficulties at the same time. But I also want to highlight the universality of the challenges explored in Mosiah 21-24. So much of mortality is a fight against bondage. Our spirits are in bondage to sin, our mortal bodies are predisposed to doing things that create additional scenarios of bondage/limitation of freedom. My takeaway from Mosiah 21-24 is that I can either rely on my own strength to free myself (like Limhi’s people), or I can ask God for help and trust in His mercy and timing (like Alma’s people). Both groups were eventually freed but Alma’s group shines in their faith, patience, attitude, and the comparative ease with which they succeeded––all because they trusted in God and waited for Him to work His miracles.
1 Nephi 18:8-23
Nephi, ever stalwart, records in 1 Nephi 18:23 that “after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land.” The preceding verses tell of the family’s embarkation and the beginning of their journey to the promised land. The Liahona shows Nephi where to steer, they have plenty of provisions, and everything is going well, fair weather and all. But then Laman and Lemuel stir things up, eventually getting mad enough at Nephi that they tie him up. Bad weather engulfs the ship and the Liahona stops working. After four days of tempest tossed seas, Laman and Lemuel finally release Nephi.
In the midst of this family drama at sea, and even while tied up in a lot of pain, Nephi maintains his faith and trust in God: “I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the day long; and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions” (v. 16). I remember years ago when God made me a promise at the outset of my mission that everything in my life would work out afterwards. Everything working out was my promised land. And even though I could literally count the days until then, I couldn’t have fathomed what lay between the delivery of the promise and its fulfillment. I in no way anticipated the challenges of those months, thinking and then wishing that I had already finished and reached my promised land.
Nephi’s perspective is so much healthier (temporally and spiritually) than mine was. Where I felt a tremendous amount of bitterness and impatience, Nephi felt gratitude and trust. Where I asked “why me?”, Nephi prayed for his oppressors and for the power of God to be made manifest. It will always be true that when the Lord makes a promise, He will fulfill it in His time. It is up to us to live worthy of the fulfillment no matter what challenges or length of time lies between.