Using the Book of Mormon to Face the Tests Ahead
--Part Four of Four--
by M. Catherine Thomas
Alma taught that the ball, director, compass, or Liahona was prepared by the Lord as a type of the word of Christ:
“For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word 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” (Alma 37:44-46).
It is possible that “vale of sorrow” means not only this mortal life as a whole but the individual vales of sorrow that the Saints come upon in their lives. That is, the Lord has given the Saints a Liahona to carry them out of their individual and collective vales of sorrows.
One problem with mortality is the inadequacy of our present language to provide vocabulary to describe spiritual experience. When missionaries try to teach investigators what the Spirit is, they have to do it by analogy or by metaphor; thus when they see the Spirit working on an investigator, they will say, “That’s it! What you are feeling right now is the Spirit of the Lord!” Elder Boyd K. Packer taught:
“We do not have the words (even the scriptures do not have words) which perfectly describe the Spirit. The scriptures do generally use the word voice, which does not exactly fit. These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes, nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels, more than one hears” (“The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, January 1983, p. 52).
We identify the Spirit mostly by feeling, and in the scripture the Lord teaches us what the Spirit feels like. If we think we have to feel something extraordinary in hearing the voice of the Lord in the scripture, we might miss the subtle impressions of the Spirit. Many people have experienced the movement of the Spirit in their souls as they read scripture. On some occasions, feelings come, or maybe tears, perhaps heightened appreciation, or a sense of peace on a particular mater, a sense of unexplainable happiness, or a sense of the Lord’s love. If we are asked on such an occasion what we heard from the Lord in that experience with the scripture, we might not be able to articulate an answer. Nonetheless, we have felt something sweet, something very tender. That was the spirit of prophecy, the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ.
On other occasions, we may be reading along when an issue or problem in our life comes to mind, maybe even a subject unrelated to the scripture being read, and suddenly we just know what to do about it. All these are instances of feeling the voice of the Lord to ourselves. We could develop this skill to a high degree and enjoy a living relationship with the Lord, in which the Lord could teach us many wonderful things. To develop such a skill we must invest time and experience, labor in the Spirit, and make scripture study a part of our daily life, but it is within the capability of any serious seeker.
The Book of Mormon teaches us how to receive revelation from scripture:
“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. And these was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it. And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things” (1 Nephi 16:28-29).
By studying the spiritual conditions under which the Book of Mormon was translated, we can learn more about the process of receiving the Spirit from the scripture. Joseph Smith showed the way. David Whitmer described what the Prophet had to go through to get the spirit of prophecy so that he could translate:
“At times when brother Joseph would attempt to translate . . . , he found he was spiritually blind and could not translate. He told us that his mind dwelt too much on earthly things, and various causes would make him incapable of proceeding with the translation. When in this condition he would go out and pray, and when he became sufficiently humble before God, he could then proceed with the translation. Now we see how very strict the Lord is, and how he requires the heart of man to be just right in his sight before he can receive revelation from him” (A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6:130-131).
On another occasion David Whitmer recorded:
He [Joseph Smith] was a religious and straightforward man. . . . He had to trust in God. He could not translate unless he was humble and possessed the right feelings towards everyone. To illustrate so you can see: One morning when he was getting ready to continue the translation, something went wrong about the house and he was put out about it. Something that Emma, his wife, had done. Oliver and I went upstairs and Joseph came up soon after to continue the translation but he could not do anything. He could not translate a single syllable. He went downstairs, out into the orchard, and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour---came back to the house, and asked Emma’s forgiveness and then came upstairs where we were and then the translation went on all right. He could do nothing save he was humble and faithful” (A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1:131).
This account is highly instructive. We must approach the scripture in the same way that the scripture was given to one who was in a state of humility, of desire, of courage, of forgiveness of others.
We can prepare ourselves to hear the word of the Lord by realizing that in opening up the scriptures, we are about to have a conversation with the Lord. Thus we approach such an encounter in a spiritual, prayerful, thoughtful, and solemn way. We read trying to feel, to listen, to hear, and even to make notes. Our heart must be prepared to be written on; we must want to hear what the Lord wants to say to us, what the Lord’s counsel is to us. So we approach the scripture with as much humility as we can, with willingness to repent and to grow.
Whenever we feel that movement of the Spirit in our own soul, we are feeling the voice of the Lord to us—the Lord is speaking to us individually. We are connected by the Spirit in that moment to our Savior. In this way, the Book of Mormon can bring us to Christ every time we pick up the book and hear or feel the Spirit. Coming to Christ is the main objective of all scripture. Simply, we feast on the words of Christ and, if we have prepared, he speaks to us through feelings and impressions and happiness and even words, and thus we come to Christ as we study scripture and hear his voice.
This kind of immersion in reading, this knowledge of the Book of Mormon, this learning to discern, to hear or feel, and then to obey the voice of the Lord to us personally may do more to prepare the Saints for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ than nearly any other activity we could engage in. President Benson urged the priesthood holders of the Church:
“One of the most important things you can do as priesthood leaders is to immerse yourselves in the scriptures. Search them diligently. Feast upon the words of Christ. Learn the doctrine. Master the principles that are found therein. There are few other efforts that will bring greater dividends to your calling. There are few other ways to gain greater inspiration as you serve.
“But that alone, as valuable as it is, is not enough. You must also bend your efforts and your activities to stimulating meaningful scripture study among the members of the Church. Often we spend great efforts in trying to increase the activity levels in our stakes. We work diligently to raise the percentages of those attending sacrament meetings. We labor to get a higher percentage of our young men on missions. We strive to improve the numbers of those marrying in the temple. All of these are commendable efforts and important to the growth of the kingdom. But when individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently, these other areas of activity will automatically come. Testimonies will increase. Commitment will be strengthened. Families will be fortified. Personal revelation will flow. . . .
“This book of the law shall not depart out of they mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8; italics added)” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 81).
President Benson has also spoken on the centrality of the scriptures to the work that the Saints must do in the winding-up scenes of this dispensation:
“In the Book of Mormon we find a pattern for preparing for the Second Coming. A major portion of the book centers on the few decades just prior to Christ’s coming to America. By careful study of that time period we can determine why some were destroyed in the terrible judgments that preceded His coming and what brought others to stand at the temple in the land of Bountiful and thrust their hands into the wounds of His hands and feet” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 59).
“My beloved brothers and sisters, I bear my solemn witness that these books [the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants] contain the mind and the will of the Lord for us in these days of trial and tribulation. They stand with the Bible to give witness of the Lord and His work. These books contain the voice of the Lord to use in these latter days. May we turn to them with full purpose of heart and us them in the way the Lord wishes them to be used” (Ensign, November 1986, p. 80; italics added).
It is clear that as wickedness increases, the Saints need a compensatory blessing to carry the Lord’s word forward. We have been promised that very blessing. President Benson declared:
“I bless you with increased understanding of the Book of Mormon. I promise you that from this moment forward, if we will daily sup from its pages and abide by its precepts, God will pour out upon each child of Zion and the Church a blessing hitherto unknown” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 78).
Finally, President Benson has spoken on how we will get from where we are now to that day when our Savior appears and the Saints stand before him prepared:
“Only a Zion people can bring in a Zion society. As the Zion people increase, so will we be able to incorporate more of the principles of Zion until we have a people prepared to receive the Lord” (“Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” Speeches of the Year, 1974, p. 305).
When the Saints have assumed their individual responsibility to possess the Spirit of the Lord in the ways that the Lord has instructed, all other preparations will follow, and we will have a people not only ready to stand in the midst of the trials preceding the Second Coming but able to rejoice under the sanctifying and prospering hand of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Watch and Be Ready: Preparing for the Second Coming of the Lord, Various Authors, Deseret Book, 1994; Chapter Two: Using the Book of Mormon to Face the Tests Ahead, by M. Catherine Thomas