When I Saw That Which Was Good Among Them – Mosiah 9:1-3

1 I, Zeniff, having been taught in all the language of the Nephites, and having had a knowledge of the land of Nephi, or of the land of our fathers’ first inheritance, and having been sent as a spy among the Lamanites that I might spy out their forces, that our army might come upon them and destroy them—but when I saw that which was good among them I was desirous that they should not be destroyed.
2 Therefore, I contended with my brethren in the wilderness, for I would that our ruler should make a treaty with them; but he being an austere and a blood-thirsty man commanded that I should be slain; but I was rescued by the shedding of much blood; for father fought against father, and brother against brother, until the greater number of our army was destroyed in the wilderness; and we returned, those of us that were spared, to the land of Zarahemla, to relate that tale to their wives and their children.
3 And yet, I being over-zealous to inherit the land of our fathers, collected as many as were desirous to go up to possess the land, and started again on our journey into the wilderness to go up to the land; but we were smitten with famine and sore afflictions; for we were slow to remember the Lord our God.
(Mosiah 9:1-3)

An important part of our mortal experience is dealing with imperfect information. Psychologists use the term “mental models” to describe the simplified representations of the world which we use to make decisions because our minds are not capable of perceiving or comprehending every detail. In theory, we update those mental models whenever we encounter information that contradicts them. But in practice, we resist changing our models, either because we need a stable worldview in order to function, or because we simply don’t want to admit we are wrong.

In the passage above, Zeniff encounters new information which conflicts with one of his established mental models. He has traveled with a group of people on a mission to reclaim the land of their ancestors (Omni 1:27). Believing that the Lamanites, the current inhabitants of that land, are beyond reclamation, he accepts the assignment to spy on them to gain intelligence which will help his group to destroy them. But after watching these people, he is forced to change his mental model. “When I saw that which was good among them,” he says, “I was desirous that they should not be destroyed.” Unfortunately, the leader of his group, “an austere and blood-thirsty man,” is unable to change his mental model, and the resulting battle claims the lives of the entire group except fifty (Omni 1:28).

Zeniff now has a new mental model. He believes that the Lamanites can be trusted. Excited and even “overzealous,” as he later concedes, about this new paradigm, he convinces a new group of people to travel to the same land and enter into a treaty with the Lamanite king. Unfortunately, this proves to be a catastrophic mistake. The king’s intention is to find a way to bring Zeniff’s people into bondage (Mosiah 9:10-12).

So both of the mental models were inadequate. The Lamanites were not so bad that they deserved to be destroyed. But neither were they entirely trustworthy. Just like his former leader, who had been unable to adjust his overly harsh view of the Lamanites, Zeniff was unable to alter his overly optimistic view of them until it was too late and his people were in terrible danger.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf discussed the human tendency to ignore or reject information which challenges our worldviews:

The “truths” we cling to shape the quality of our societies as well as our individual characters. All too often these “truths” are based on incomplete and inaccurate evidence, and at times they serve very selfish motives.
Part of the reason for poor judgment comes from the tendency of mankind to blur the line between belief and truth. We too often confuse belief with truth, thinking that because something makes sense or is convenient, it must be true. Conversely, we sometimes don’t believe truth or reject it—because it would require us to change or admit that we were wrong. Often, truth is rejected because it doesn’t appear to be consistent with previous experiences.
When the opinions or “truths” of others contradict our own, instead of considering the possibility that there could be information that might be helpful and augment or complement what we know, we often jump to conclusions or make assumptions that the other person is misinformed, mentally challenged, or even intentionally trying to deceive.
Unfortunately, this tendency can spread to all areas of our lives—from sports to family relationships and from religion to politics (“What Is Truth,” CES Devotional, 13 January 2013).

Today, I will strive to be humble and teachable as I come in contact with new information or opinions of others which contradict my mental models. I will make an effort to swallow my pride, to evaluate the new information fairly, and to make adjustments to my models as needed, even if it means admitting that I was wrong.

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There Was Nothing Save it Were the Power of God…Could Soften Their Hearts – 1 Nephi 18:17-20

17 Now my father, Lehi, had said many things unto them, and also unto the sons of Ishmael; but, behold, they did breathe out much threatenings against anyone that should speak for me; and my parents being stricken in years, and having suffered much grief because of their children, they were brought down, yea, even upon their sick-beds.
18 Because of their grief and much sorrow, and the iniquity of my brethren, they were brought near even to be carried out of this time to meet their God; yea, their grey hairs were about to be brought down to lie low in the dust; yea, even they were near to be cast with sorrow into a watery grave.
19 And Jacob and Joseph also, being young, having need of much nourishment, were grieved because of the afflictions of their mother; and also my wife with her tears and prayers, and also my children, did not soften the hearts of my brethren that they would loose me.
20 And there was nothing save it were the power of God, which threatened them with destruction, could soften their hearts; wherefore, when they saw that they were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea they repented of the thing which they had done, insomuch that they loosed me.
(1 Nephi 18:17-20)

Since the purpose of life is for us to progress and become more like God, repentance is a critical component of our mortal experience. As illustrated in the passage above, God will warn us in many different ways when we need to repent.

As Nephi’s family traveled across the ocean on the ship they had built, his older brothers, Laman and Lemuel, together with the sons of Ishmael, began to behave inappropriately. When Nephi tried to correct their behavior, they were angry with him and tied him up. Notice in the passage above how many opportunities they were given to repent of their abusive behavior:

  1. Their father spoke with them. If they had obeyed the commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20:12), they might have listened to his counsel and resolved the situation before it got worse. Instead, they threatened him and their mother.
  2. Their younger brothers, Jacob and Joseph, were troubled by the situation. If Laman and Lemuel had felt empathy for their younger brothers, they might have been motivated to repent.
  3. Nephi’s wife and children were personally affected by the violence committed against their husband and father. Nephi’s statement that their “tears and prayers” didn’t soften Laman’s or Lemuel’s heart suggests to me that she pleaded with them even after they threatened anyone who spoke on his behalf. In any event, it seems clear that Laman and Lemuel were aware of those tears and prayers, and that they intentionally ignored them.
  4. There was “a great and terrible tempest” which became progressively worse over three days (1 Nephi 18:13-15). When the storm got so bad that Laman and Lemuel began to fear for their lives, their hearts were finally softened. They repented and set Nephi free.

What was the purpose of the storm? Like the other warnings, it was intended to influence Laman’s and Lemuel’s behavior. As soon as they repented and set Nephi free, “the winds did cease, and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm” (1 Nephi 18:21). No retribution here, just a motivation to repent.

Howard W. Hunter explained that the bad things that happen to us serve the purpose of helping us grow and progress:

Yes, we all have difficult moments individually and collectively, but even in the most severe of times, anciently or modern, those problems and prophecies were never intended to do anything but bless the righteous and help those who are less righteous move toward repentance. God loves us and the scriptures tell us he “gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” [John 3:16–17] (“Hope: An Anchor to the Souls of Men,” BYU Devotional Address, 7 Feb 1993).

Today, I will pay attention to the warnings around me that I need to repent. When I receive those warnings, whatever form they might take, I will act on them, recognizing that they come from a loving Heavenly Father who has my best interests at heart and who is trying to help me change and become more like Him.

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How Is It that He Cannot Instruct Me? – 1 Nephi 17:50-51

50 And I said unto them: If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done.
51 And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?
(1 Nephi 17:50-51)

It’s one thing to believe that God can do anything. It’s another to believe that you can do anything with God’s help. The first kind of belief might lead to humility and prayer, but only the second will lead to action.

In the first of the Lectures on Faith, written by Joseph Smith and other church leaders for the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio, we learn that faith is a principle of action and also of power (“First Theological Lecture on Faith, circa January–May 1835,” josephsmithpapers.org). Elder David A. Bednar explained: “True faith is focused in and on the Lord Jesus Christ and always leads to righteous action…which increases our spiritual capacity and power (“Ask in Faith,” General Conference, April 2008).

I’m impressed with Nephi’s response to the commandment to build a ship. He didn’t ask God to do it for him. He didn’t ask for someone more qualified to fulfill the assignment. He asked where he could go to find ore to make the tools he would need (1 Nephi 17:9). The Lord showed him “from time to time” how to build the ship, and he built it according to the Lord’s instructions, not “after the manner of men” (1 Nephi 18:1-2). And Nephi went to work, believing that with God’s help, he would be successful in building a seaworthy vessel for his family.

It stands to reason that, if the purpose of this life is our growth and progression, God will not do everything for us. He will ask us to do hard things. But it also stands to reason that, as a loving parent, He will not leave us alone. As we act in faith, He will help us accomplish the difficult things he has commanded us to do. (See 1 Nephi 3:7, 1 Nephi 17:3).

Today, I will act in faith. I will believe not only that God can do all things, but that I can do anything He wants me to do with His help. Like Nephi, I will get to work, trusting that the Lord will send guidance along the way “from time to time” in order to help me accomplish the things I have been commanded to do.

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Bountiful – 1 Nephi 17:6-8

6 And it came to pass that we did pitch our tents by the seashore; and notwithstanding we had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all, we were exceedingly rejoiced when we came to the seashore; and we called the place Bountiful, because of its much fruit.
7 And it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had been in the land of Bountiful for the space of many days, the voice of the Lord came unto me, saying: Arise, and get thee into the mountain. And it came to pass that I arose and went up into the mountain, and cried unto the Lord.
8 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters.
(1 Nephi 17:6-8)

The land of Bountiful sounds pretty good. Especially after the hardships the family had endured during eight years in the wilderness, this haven by the sea with plenty of fruit must have seemed like paradise. I can imagine family members saying, “Why can’t this be our promised land?” And the Lord did allow them to set up camp and take some time to recover. But after the family had been there for “many days,” the Lord communicated to Nephi that He had bigger things in store and that the family was to continue their journey by sea.

Sometimes, we reach a plateau and feel like we’ve arrived at our destination. But our Heavenly Father, who knows all things, can see that we are only partway there. It’s okay to take a break when needed, to rest and to recover, particularly when we’ve passed through a rough portion of the journey. But we would be wise to keep our vision focused on the future, on the true “promised land” which is our final destination, and not to get too comfortable as we achieve milestones along the way, however enjoyable each of them may be. We will never reach our destination unless we are willing to continue as we started, leaving our comfort zone and tackling each new challenge with faith and with courage.

As President Henry B. Eyring has taught:

The better and the longer you serve, the more likely that the tempter can place this lie in your mind: “You have earned a rest.” You may have been the Primary president in your little branch twice. Or you may have worked long and hard on your mission and sacrificed so much to serve. Or perhaps you were the pioneer in the Church where you live. The thought may come: “Why not leave the service to the new people. I have done my part….”
It is hard to know when we have done enough for the Atonement to change our natures and so qualify us for eternal life. And we don’t know how many days we will have to give the service necessary for that mighty change to come. But we know that we will have days enough if only we don’t waste them (“This Day,” General Conference, April 2007).

Today, I will enjoy the journey. I will remember that, while achieving intermediate goals can be satisfying and rewarding, I must not stop laboring until I have achieved the final goal.

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I Did Exhort My Brethren to Faithfulness and Diligence – 1 Nephi 17:15-18

15 Wherefore, I, Nephi, did strive to keep the commandments of the Lord, and I did exhort my brethren to faithfulness and diligence.
16 And it came to pass that I did make tools of the ore which I did molten out of the rock.
17 And when my brethren saw that I was about to build a ship, they began to murmur against me, saying: Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters.
18 And thus my brethren did complain against me, and were desirous that they might not labor, for they did not believe that I could build a ship; neither would they believe that I was instructed of the Lord.
(1 Nephi 17:15-18)

Shortly after Nephi’s family left Jerusalem, he received a promise from the Lord that, if his older brothers rebelled against him, and if he obeyed God’s commandments, he would be “a ruler and a teacher over [them]” (1 Nephi 2:21-22). Not long after, an angel who rescued him from those older brothers gave the same warning directly to them: “Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities?” (1 Nephi 3:29).

I think if you had asked Laman and Lemuel at the end of their lives whether that prophecy had been fulfilled, they would have said no. Nephi was never their leader in their minds. They did, however, complain many times that Nephi thought he was their ruler, and that he aspired to rule over them. (See 1 Nephi 16:37-38, 1 Nephi 18:10, 2 Nephi 5:3.)

But at the end of Nephi’s life, he affirmed that the prophecy had been fulfilled. “I had been their ruler and their teacher,” he said, “according to the commandments of the Lord, until the time they sought to take away my life” (2 Nephi 5:19).

The passage above shows us what that leadership looked like. The Lord had commanded Nephi to build a ship. He got to work, and he asked his brothers to help him. They protested that it was an impossible task and that they didn’t want to participate. They didn’t offer an alternative course of action; they just didn’t like his. Eventually, with God’s help, Nephi was able to convince them to contribute to the effort.

Objectively, who’s the leader here? One of them has a vision, is working toward realizing it, and is striving to influence others to participate. The others are criticizing him, calling him names, and refusing to help. No matter how much Laman, the oldest, may have wanted to be recognized as the leader, he wasn’t acting like one. Whether or not they acknowledged Nephi to be their leader, he was the only one who was actually leading.

Leadership isn’t holding a position of authority. It isn’t being praised or respected. It isn’t getting credit for the work you do. Leadership is seeing what needs to be done, working hard to do it, and striving to influence others to contribute to the cause.

Ronald Reagan kept a small plaque on his desk in the Oval Office with the following words: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit” (“Reagan the Man,” Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute Website).

Today, I will follow Nephi’s example of true leadership. I will focus on doing what needs to be done and influencing others to help, without regard for status or recognition.

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I, Nephi, Did Make out of Wood a Bow – 1 Nephi 16:18-20, 23

18 And it came to pass that as I, Nephi, went forth to slay food, behold, I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel; and after I did break my bow, behold, my brethren were angry with me because of the loss of my bow, for we did obtain no food.
19 And it came to pass that we did return without food to our families, and being much fatigued, because of their journeying, they did suffer much for the want of food.
20 And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael did begin to murmur exceedingly, because of their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness; and also my father began to murmur against the Lord his God; yea, and they were all exceedingly sorrowful, even that they did murmur against the Lord….
23 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did make out of wood a bow, and out of a straight stick, an arrow; wherefore, I did arm myself with a bow and an arrow, with a sling and with stones. And I said unto my father: Whither shall I go to obtain food?
(1 Nephi 16:18-20, 23)

GenimageIn the early 1900’s, psychologist Karl Duncker devised a cognitive test known as the “Candle Problem.” A participant is left alone with the following items on a table: a candle, a box of thumbtacks, and a book of matches. The participant’s task is to light the candle and connect it to the wall in a way that no wax will drip on the table below.

The solution is simple: empty the box, tack it to the wall, place the candle in the box, and light the candle. The reason that many people fail to solve the problem is because they see the box only as a container for the tacks, not a tool they can use in solving the puzzle.

Sam Glucksberg, a professor at Princeton University has shown that, when participants are given a time limit or offered money to complete this test, they are less likely to solve it. He postulated that the increased level of stress shuts down the creative part of the brain, leaving people unable to think about the objects in unconventional ways. (See the discussion of this experiment in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Usby Daniel Pink.)

In the passage above, we see this same phenomenon. Nephi has broken his bow, and his brothers’ bows have lost their springs. The family is under extreme stress: hungry, exhausted, and unsure where their next meal will come from. Their thought processes become very rigid:

  1. Nephi’s bow is how we obtain food.
  2. Nephi’s bow is now broken.
  3. Therefore, we cannot obtain food.

This kind of inflexible thinking doesn’t lead to action. Hence, Nephi’s brothers and even his father resorted to complaining about their situation but did nothing to improve it. They had “hardened their hearts,” and they were therefore unable to think about their situation in different ways and find a solution to their challenge (1 Nephi 16:22).

In contrast, Nephi continued to exercise faith, which led him to find an answer: make a new bow out of the wood which was readily available to them. His brothers saw trees; Nephi saw the materials from which he could craft a new bow and arrows. His faith in God enabled him to overcome an unprofitable pattern of thought and see the things around him with new eyes.

Today, I will follow Nephi’s example of faith. When I encounter roadblocks which seem insurmountable, I will trust that God can help me overcome them. I will continue to search for solutions, believing that there is an answer, and that God can help me find it if I resist the temptation to harden my heart.

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A Round Ball of Curious Workmanship – 1 Nephi 16:9-10

9 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord spake unto my father by night, and commanded him that on the morrow he should take his journey into the wilderness.
10 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 16:9-10)

The Lord sends help when we need it. That’s the message I get from this passage. Think of all the things Lehi had already done:

  1. He abandoned his home in Jerusalem and took his family into the wilderness.
  2. He sent his sons back to Jerusalem on a dangerous mission to obtain the brass plates.
  3. He sent them back again to persuade Ishmael and his family to join them on their journey.

Now, he has been camped near the Red Sea in the Valley of Lemuel for quite some time. Their preparations are complete. The Lord tells Lehi at night that they should begin traveling again the following day.

As he leaves his tent the next morning, he discovers a useful device on the ground: “a round ball of curious workmanship” which tells them which way they should go. It might have been comforting earlier in their journey to know that they would receive this help, but they didn’t really need it until now. The Lord gave it to them precisely when they needed it, which allowed them to exercise their faith before that time.

Elder David A. Bednar identified three elements of faith and explained how they work together:

Assurance, action, and evidence influence each other in an ongoing process. This helix is like a coil, and as it spirals upward it expands and widens. These three elements of faith—assurance, action, and evidence—are not separate and discrete; rather, they are interrelated and continuous and cycle upward. And the faith that fuels this ongoing process develops, evolves, and changes. As we again turn and face forward toward an uncertain future, assurance leads to action and produces evidence, which further increases assurance. Our confidence waxes stronger, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little (“Seek Learning by Faith,” Address to church educators, February 6, 2007).

Today, as I face new challenges with uncertain outcomes, I will remember Lehi’s faith. I will act on divine guidance, building on the assurance I have gained from prior experiences. Even if I can’t see where my current steps will lead, I will trust that God will send help along the way. I will strive to recognize the evidence God sends along the way, including help when needed, and I will let that evidence in turn strengthen my assurance.

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