He Turned Him About – Helaman 5:36-37

36 And it came to pass that he turned him about, and behold, he saw through the cloud of darkness the faces of Nephi and Lehi; and behold, they did shine exceedingly, even as the faces of angels. And he beheld that they did lift their eyes to heaven; and they were in the attitude as if talking or lifting their voices to some being whom they beheld.
37 And it came to pass that this man did cry unto the multitude, that they might turn and look. And behold, there was power given unto them that they did turn and look; and they did behold the faces of Nephi and Lehi.
(Helaman 5:36-37)


The miraculous experience described in Helaman 5:21-52 occurred in stages:

  1. Nephi and his brother Lehi were imprisoned by the Lamanites for many days without food.
  2. When the Lamanites entered the prison to kill them, Nephi and Lehi appeared to be encircled by a pillar fire, but they were not burned. Because of the fire, the Lamanites didn’t dare to touch them.
  3. Nephi and Lehi spoke words of reassurance to the Lamanites.
  4. The ground and the walls of the prison shook.
  5. The Lamanites were surrounded by a cloud of darkness which filled them with fear.
  6. Three times they heard a quiet voice. The first two times, the voice warned them not to harm Nephi and Lehi. The third time, it said things that can’t be spoken by a human being.
  7. The walls and the earth shook again.
  8. The Lamanites were immobilized by the cloud of darkness.
  9. One of them turned and saw the faces of Nephi and Lehi, shining like the faces of angels. He told the rest of the people to turn and see.
  10. They asked him what they could do to overcome the cloud of darkness. He told them to cry unto the voice. They did, and the cloud of darkness went away.
  11. Every one of them was encircled by a pillar of fire, and they were filled with joy.
  12. They heard the voice again, promising them peace, and they saw and spoke with angels.

What a remarkable experience! Tonight, I’m only going to discuss one small part of this experience, #9 in my list, which is described in the passage above.

At this point, everyone in the prison except Nephi and Lehi were overwhelmed by a cloud of darkness, which filled them with “an awful solemn fear.” One of them “turned him about, and…saw through the cloud of darkness the faces of Nephi and Lehi.” My impression is that, before he turned, he saw nothing. Just darkness. But he made the effort to turn, to look for a glimmer of light. And he found it. He was still surrounded by darkness, but he could tell that Nephi and Lehi were not. He immediately invited his colleagues to turn as well, and they could all see the same glimmer of hope: if Nephi and Lehi were not overcome by this cloud then maybe they could escape too. That observation gave them the confidence to pray for the cloud to be lifted, which led to their deliverance. It all started when one of them turned to look for the light.

What “cloud of darkness” surrounds me? What kinds of circumstances do I encounter which overwhelm me or cause me to lose hope? Sometimes a project I’m working on meets a significant obstacle which looks insurmountable. Sometimes a person I care about seems trapped in patterns of thought or behavior which they seem unable to shake. Sometimes my best efforts to do what is right seem to be unappreciated and even ineffective. When I find myself in any of those circumstances, I’m going to follow the example of this man who “turned him about” looking for light. I will make the effort to look for some glimmer of hope, however faint. When I find it, I will let it give me courage so that I can find the help I need to overcome my own cloud of darkness.

Today, when I feel overwhelmed or discouraged, I will “turn and look.” I will make the effort to identify the positive signs which can help me overcome my challenges and achieve success.

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If Thou Art God – Alma 22:18

18 O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. And now when the king had said these words, he was struck as if he were dead.
(Alma 22:18)

This prayer offered by Lamoni’s father, “who was king over all the land” (Alma 20:8), illustrates two principles:

  1. We don’t have to be sure that God exists before we begin praying to Him. We should be honest about where we stand. I admire the king’s frankness in admitting that he wasn’t sure there was a God, even as he spoke to God. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has taught, we don’t need to pretend to have faith that we don’t have. When a young man admitted to Elder Holland that he didn’t know the Church was true, but he believed it, Elder Holland praised him for “the honesty of his quest,” telling him that “belief is a precious word, an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for “only believing” (“Lord, I Believe,” General Conference, April 2013).
  2. If we want to draw closer to God, we need make commitments, even in advance of certainty. As Moroni taught, we receive a spiritual witness only after we choose to exercise our faith in Him (Ether 12:6). The king’s commitment in this prayer includes not only his willingness to publicly address God when he wasn’t sure there was a God, but also to publicly pledge to abandon his sins in order to know God. Moroni urged us to pray with “real intent” (Moroni 10:4). President Russell M. Nelson provided the following clarification: “‘Real intent’ means that one really intends to follow the divine direction given” in answer to our prayers (“Ask, Seek, Knock,” General Conference, October 2009).

Today, I will pray with sincerity and with real intent. I will be honest with Heavenly Father about my limitations, and I will commit to follow the guidance I receive from Him in response to my prayers.

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Their Hearts Had Been Changed – Alma 19:33

33 And it came to pass that when Ammon arose he also administered unto them, and also did all the servants of Lamoni; and they did all declare unto the people the selfsame thing—that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil.
(Alma 19:33)

When Alma the Younger recovered from the trauma associated with being called to repentance by an angel, he told the people gathered around him that he had been born again. Then he declared to them that “all…men and women…must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters” (Mosiah 27:25).

After hearing the words of King Benjamin, his people affirmed that their hearts had been changed, “that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).

In the passage above, we read a similar outcome to a spiritual experience. After praying for mercy, King Lamoni lay unconscious for two days and two nights. When he woke up, he bore a powerful testimony of the Savior which led to him, his wife, and the missionary Ammon all falling to the earth, “overpowered by the Spirit” (Alma 19:13). As the passage above indicates, when they recovered, they all three testified “that their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil.”

I’ve been thinking today about the multiple layers of desire we all experience. Is it possible for a person to want to arise early in the morning and exercise, and simultaneously to want to stay in bed? Can we experience contradictory desires? Of course we can, and I think we do all the time. My dad taught me that self-discipline is “doing what you want to do when you don’t want to do it.” So we can have different levels of desire in our hearts which are at odds with each other and which need to be reconciled.

When Nephi prayed to have his heart softened, he recognized that his desires were not what he wanted them to be, and he knew that God could help him align them properly. Perhaps deep down, he did want to believe his father, but he needed Heavenly Father’s help to actually believe and resist the temptation to rebel. (See 1 Nephi 2:16.)

As Neal A. Maxwell pointed out, the education of our hearts involves not only divesting ourselves of evil desires but also cultivating good ones:

Some of our present desires…need to be diminished and then finally dissolved. For instance, the biblical counsel “let not thine heart envy sinners” is directed squarely at those with a sad unsettlement of soul (Prov. 23:17). Once again, we must be honest with ourselves about the consequences of our desires, which follow as the night, the day. Similarly faced with life’s so-called “bad breaks,” the natural man desires to wallow in self-pity; therefore this desire must go too.
But dissolution of wrong desires is only part of it. For instance, what is now only a weak desire to be a better spouse, father, or mother needs to become a stronger desire, just as Abraham experienced divine discontent and desired greater happiness and knowledge (see Abr. 1:2) (“According to the Desire of [Our] Hearts,” General Conference, October 1996).

Today, I will watch for contradictory desires in my heart, and I will pray for help to diminish the negative desires and to bolster the positive ones. I will have faith that Heavenly Father can help me to “school [my] feelings” (Hymns, #336).

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How Knowest Thou the Thoughts of My Heart? – Alma 18:18-20

18 Now when the king had heard these words, he marveled again, for he beheld that Ammon could discern his thoughts; but notwithstanding this, king Lamoni did open his mouth, and said unto him: Who art thou? Art thou that Great Spirit, who knows all things?
19 Ammon answered and said unto him: I am not.
20 And the king said: How knowest thou the thoughts of my heart? Thou mayest speak boldly, and tell me concerning these things…
(Alma 18:18-20)

After Ammon single-handedly defended King Lamoni’s sheep from a group of armed robbers, the king was so troubled at the miracle that he couldn’t bring himself to talk to Ammon. He commanded his servants to bring Ammon to him, but when Ammon came, the king remained silent for an entire hour. Finally, Ammon asked a question which indicated to the king that he knew the king’s thoughts. Lamoni responded with several questions of his own:

  • He asked whether Ammon was the “Great Spirit.” Ammon replied that he was not.
  • He then asked how Ammon could know his thoughts. Ammon explained to him that the Spirit of the Lord was with him, and that he received both knowledge and power from that Spirit (Alma 18:34-35).

Because Ammon was attuned to the voice of the Spirit, he had the gift of discernment: he was able to know things that he could not know otherwise, including the thoughts of the king.

Stephen L. Richards, who served as a counselor to President David O. McKay, explained the gift of discernment in these words:

I believe that this gift when highly developed arises largely out of an acute sensitivity to impressions—spiritual impressions, if you will—to read under the surface as it were, to detect hidden evil, and more importantly to find the good that may be concealed. The highest type of discernment is that which perceives in others and uncovers for them their better natures, the good inherent within them….
Every member in the restored Church of Christ could have this gift if he willed to do so (General Conference, April 1950, quoted by Elder David A. Bednar in “Quick to Observe,” BYU Devotional, May 10, 2005).

I like the idea that the gift of discernment will enable me to see the good in others which would not otherwise be visible. I like to think that, with such discernment, I can help them rise to greater heights.

Elder Bednar shared a practical description of how this gift works in the life of his wife, Susan:

Before attending her sacrament meetings, Sister Bednar frequently prays for the spiritual eyes to see those who have a need. Often as she observes the brothers and sisters and children in the congregation, she will feel a spiritual nudge to visit with or make a phone call to a particular person. And when Sister Bednar receives such an impression, she promptly responds and obeys. It often is the case that as soon as the “amen” is spoken in the benediction, she will talk with a teenager or hug a sister or, upon returning home, immediately pick up the phone and make a call. As long as I have known Sister Bednar, people have marveled at her capacity to discern and respond to their needs. Often they will ask her, “How did you know?” The spiritual gift of being quick to observe has enabled her to see and to act promptly and has been a great blessing in the lives of many people (“Quick to Observe,” BYU Devotional, May 10, 2005).

Today, I will seek for the inspiration which enables me to perceive the “better natures” of the people around me and help them to be their best selves. Like Ammon, and like Sister Bednar, I will follow the Spirit of the Lord, knowing that God can give me knowledge which will help me to interact with the people around me in a way that ennobles and uplifts both me and them.

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I Obeyed the Voice of the Angel – Alma 10:7-9

7 As I was journeying to see a very near kindred, behold an angel of the Lord appeared unto me and said: Amulek, return to thine own house, for thou shalt feed a prophet of the Lord; yea, a holy man, who is a chosen man of God; for he has fasted many days because of the sins of this people, and he is an hungered, and thou shalt receive him into thy house and feed him, and he shall bless thee and thy house; and the blessing of the Lord shall rest upon thee and thy house.
8 And it came to pass that I obeyed the voice of the angel, and returned towards my house. And as I was going thither I found the man whom the angel said unto me: Thou shalt receive into thy house—and behold it was this same man who has been speaking unto you concerning the things of God.
9 And the angel said unto me he is a holy man; wherefore I know he is a holy man because it was said by an angel of God.
(Alma 10:7-9)

By his own admission, Amulek was a good person who simply wasn’t that interested in religion. In his remarks to the people of Ammonihah, where he lived, he introduced himself as a person with a strong family and social network who had been very successful in business. “Nevertheless, after all this,” he admits, “I never have known much of the ways of the Lord.” Then, he adds, “I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know” (Alma 10:5-6).

All that changed when he was visited by an angel of God. The angel told him that he needed to return home and feed a prophet of God whom he would meet. Immediately, Amulek believed and obeyed. He met Alma and he invited him into his house as he was commanded by the angel. As he testifies in the passage above, “I know he is a holy man because it was said by an angel of God.”

This same Amulek later pleaded with the Zoramites to respond to the invitation to repent. Together with that challenge, he made a promise:

I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you (Alma 34:31).

This promise has tremendous credibility with me, knowing that Amulek had experienced it himself. When he was called to repentance, he chose to accept the invitation, humble himself, and obey the words of the angel. Immediately, he became a missionary. The gospel became active in his life.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke about what we can learn from the example of Amulek:

Perhaps, like Amulek, you know in your heart that the Lord has “called [you] many times,” but you “would not hear.”
Nevertheless, the Lord sees in you what He saw in Amulek—the potential of a valiant servant with an important work to do and with a testimony to share. There is service that no one else can give in quite the same way….
Our beloved Savior knows where you are. He knows your heart. He wants to rescue you. He will reach out to you. Just open your heart to Him (“Learn from Alma and Amulek,” General Conference, October 2016).

Today, I will follow Amulek’s example of responsiveness to the calls that come from God. I will remember that the gospel becomes active in our lives immediately when we humble ourselves and respond to calls to serve, whether those calls come through a church leader, through a heavenly messenger, or through the quiet promptings of the Holy Ghost speaking directly to our mind and our heart.

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Weighed Down with Sorrow – Alma 8:14-16

14 And it came to pass that while he was journeying thither, being weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul, because of the wickedness of the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, it came to pass while Alma was thus weighed down with sorrow, behold an angel of the Lord appeared unto him, saying:
15 Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him. Behold, I am he that delivered it unto you.
16 And behold, I am sent to command thee that thou return to the city of Ammonihah, and preach again unto the people of the city; yea, preach unto them. Yea, say unto them, except they repent the Lord God will destroy them.
(Alma 8:14-16)

After attempting to preach in the city of Ammonihah and being “reviled,” “spit upon,” and “cast out,” Alma began traveling to the city of Aaron (Alma 8:13). But while he was traveling, an angel appeared to him, commanding him to return to Ammonihah. What prompted this appearance by the angel?

Earlier this month, I wrote about the importance of pondering as a preparation for receiving revelation. Nephi saw a vision as he sat pondering on his father’s teachings. Could it be that Alma’s sorrow served the same purpose that Nephi’s pondering did: preparing his mind and his heart to receive revelation from God? I think it did.

Twice in the passage above, Mormon tells us that Alma was “weighed down with sorrow.” He also says that Alma was “wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul.” Alma had already left the city. The inhabitants were no longer persecuting him. He was experiencing tribulation because he loved those people and was deeply concerned about their welfare.

Just as his father was promised eternal life after praying on behalf of sinners, Alma received this visit from an angel as he mourned for the inhabitants of Ammonihah, who had refused to listen to him. When we feel genuine love for other people, their unrighteous behavior causes us pain because we know it will cause unhappiness. Those feelings of sorrow on their behalf bring us closer to God, who also feels sorrow when He sees His children doing wrong. (See Moses 7:28-41.)

Today, I will love the people around me. Even when that love leads to sorrow for their unrighteous decisions, I will open my heart to those feelings. I will recognize that feelings of sorrow on behalf of other people can bring me closer to God.

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Thou Art My Servant – Mosiah 26:19-20

19 And because thou hast inquired of me concerning the transgressor, thou art blessed.
20 Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep.
(Mosiah 26:19-20)

King Benjamin taught his people that “when [we] are in the service of [our] fellow beings [we] are only in the service of [our] God.” (Mosiah 2:17). In the passage above, we see this principle in action in the life of Alma.

During Alma’s tenure as high priest of the church, he encountered a new challenge: many of the young people were not only choosing not to join the church but were actively influencing others who had joined, convincing them to stop living by the standards expected of church members. Alma felt it was his responsibility as the high priest to take some action, but he didn’t want to do anything which would drive people further away from God. Because “he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God,” he prayed and asked God for guidance about how to handle the situation (Mosiah 26:13).

The passage above is a portion of God’s response. After commending Alma for praying on behalf of “the transgressor,” He makes a powerful declaration: “Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shall have eternal life.” Unlike Enos before him or his own son shortly thereafter, Alma wasn’t praying on his own behalf. He was praying on behalf of these wayward church members whom he loved. I think it’s significant that God’s promise of eternal life came as a response to Alma’s prayer, not for himself, but for other people.

The Savior said, “whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). Alma lost his life in the service of others and gained the promise that he would inherit eternal life.

Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson has reminded us that we have opportunities to serve others all around us, if we will simply turn outward and pay attention:

I believe that most members consider service to be at the heart of their covenants and discipleship. But I also think that sometimes it’s easy to miss some of the greatest opportunities to serve others because we are distracted or because we are looking for ambitious ways to change the world and we don’t see that some of the most significant needs we can meet are within our own families, among our friends, in our wards, and in our communities. We are touched when we see the suffering and great needs of those halfway around the world, but we may fail to see there is a person who needs our friendship sitting right next to us in class (“The Needs Before Us,” General Conference, October 2017).

Today, I will pay attention to the needs of the people around me. I will pray for them, and I will serve them. I will remember that service is central to my discipleship, and that my Heavenly Father will consider me to be His servant to the degree that I lose myself in serving His children.

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