What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About Self-Reliance?

A core message of the Book of Mormon is that we are nothing compared with God.

  • King Benjamin reminded his people that God created them, and that he preserves them from day to day “by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another” (Mosiah 2:21).
  • Nephi pledged to trust in God forever and not to trust in “the arm of flesh.” Then he said, “Cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm” (2 Nephi 4:34).
  • Mormon condemned the obliviousness of people who thought they could take credit for their prosperity: “At the very time when he doth prosper his people,… then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity…. O how great is the nothingness of the children of men” (Helaman 12:2, 7).

The first principle of self-reliance, then, is that we are totally dependent upon God.

But that is not the end of the story. Book of Mormon prophets are clear that God expects us to do what we can for ourselves.

  • When Nephi and his family left his brothers and formed their own city, he said that they planted seeds and raised animals, made weapons to defend themselves, and built homes and other buildings. They were industrious, he said, and they were happy (2 Nephi 5:11, 14-15, 17, 27).
  • When Alma and his people escaped from King Noah, they “began to till the ground, and began to build buildings; yea, they were industrious, and did labor exceedingly.” As a result, “they began to prosper exceedingly in the land” (Mosiah 23:5, 19).
  • Captain Moroni wrote to Pahoran, “Do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?” (Alma 60:21).
  • Moroni lived this principle. He prepared his armies to defend themselves against the forces of Zarahemnah by providing armor for them and by asking the prophet for guidance (Alma 43:19-24). He later prepared the Nephite cities by building fortifications around them and by urging his people to pray (Alma 48:7-10, Alma 49:4-5, Alma 50:1-6). He trusted God but also believed that God expected him to work hard and to be prepared.

A church manual defines self-reliance as:

The ability, commitment, and effort to provide the spiritual and temporal necessities of life for self and family….
Church members are responsible for their own spiritual and temporal well-being. Blessed with the gift of agency, they have the privilege and duty to set their own course, solve their own problems, and strive to become self-reliant. Members do this under the inspiration of the Lord and with the labor of their own hands (Handbook 2, 6.1.1).

The manual lists six areas where church members should strive to be self-reliant: health, education, employment, home storage, finances, and spiritual strength.

Obviously, we can’t be entirely independent in any of those areas. But we can set goals, make plans, work hard, overcome obstacles and persevere. We can also plead with the Lord for help in each of these areas. Like Nephi, Alma, and Moroni, we can find joy and peace in hard work, risk management, and personal preparation. We can also trust that the Lord will prosper us as we exercise our agency to seek and follow His guidance.

Today, I will strive to become more self-reliant. I will remember that I am totally dependent upon God, but that He expects me to take advantage of the opportunities and blessings He has given to me. I will strive to maintain my physical and spiritual health, to prepare for emergencies, to continue my education, and to manage my finances carefully. As I do all of this, I will remember to trust God and to seek His help in faith.

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Why Is Family History Important?

Heavenly Father wants us to build strong relationships with each other, and those relationships are not limited to people who are currently living.

After Lehi left Jerusalem with his family, He sent his sons back on a dangerous mission. They were to acquire a valuable spiritual record engraved on brass plates which were in the possession of a wealthy and powerful man named Laban (1 Nephi 3:1-6).

Why was it so important to obtain this record? Nephi tells us that it contained the words of many prophets, from Moses to Jeremiah (1 Nephi 5:11-13). But he also tells us that it contained a genealogy of Lehi’s ancestors. After studying the words on these plates and learning of his own spiritual heritage, Lehi “was filled with the spirit” (1 Nephi 5:17).

As Lehi’s descendants wrote their own record on metal plates, one of their stated purposes was to preserve their genealogy (Jarom 1:1, Omni 1:1). They wanted their descendants to know them and to feel an affinity with them. Lehi’s son Jacob put it particularly poignantly:

We labor diligently to engraven these words upon plates, hoping that our beloved brethren and our children will receive them with thankful hearts, and look upon them that they may learn with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt, concerning their first parents (Jacob 4:3).

When Jesus visited the American continent, He quoted the words of Malachi, including the promise that Elijah the prophet would one day come to “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (3 Nephi 25:6, Malachi 4:6).

I love the following verse from a hymn written by my Uncle Paul:

Turn your hearts toward your parents–
Generations gone before.
May you seek until you find them;
In the temple seal and bind them
To your hearts forevermore (“Turn Your Hearts,” Hymns, 291).

That is why it is important to learn about our ancestors: so that we can build strong relationships with them. As we learn about them, we will feel an affection for them, and they will be bound to our hearts forever.

Today, I will think about some of my ancestors. I will remember that the bonds of love can stretch beyond the grave and into the eternities.

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What Does the Book of Mormon Say About Teaching the Gospel in Families?

The Book of Mormon begins with a family. The Lord commands Lehi, a prophet in Jerusalem whose life is in danger, to “take his family and depart into the wilderness” (2 Nephi 2:2). During their journey, he teaches his children the gospel, he urges them to keep the commandments, and he warns them when their behavior is leading them away from happiness. Above all, he and his wife Sariah love their children—all of them.

Throughout the rest of the book, gospel teaching in families is a major theme:

  • Jacob records a sermon he gave to his people (Jacob 2-3), but his son Enos tells about his own personal conversion, which was prompted by the teachings of his father (Enos 1:3).
  • King Benjamin teaches his sons before he teaches his people (Mosiah 1). When the people come to hear him, they sit in families (Mosiah 2:5).
  • Alma the Younger is called to repentance by an angel because his father prayed for him (Mosiah 27:14). When he falls into a coma for three days, he is saved when he remembers his father’s teachings about Jesus Christ (Alma 36:17).
  • We read three sermons Alma delivered to the church (Alma 5, 7, 9-13), followed by three sermons he delivered to his sons (Alma 36-37, 38, 39-42).
  • When the Savior visited the American continent, He commanded the people: “Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed” (3 Nephi 18:21).
  • Jared and his brother lead their families to a promised land by praying for them and following the answers they receive (Ether 1-2, 6).
  • Moroni shares with us a sermon given by his father in a synagogue, followed by two letters his father wrote to him (Moroni 7-9).

Gospel teaching within the family is a constant theme in the Book of Mormon. Here are some principles I see in these examples:

  1. We can teach the gospel to our children in many ways: in conversations, in letters, in prayers, and when they hear us teaching other people.
  2. We should never give up on our children, even when they fail to respond to our teachings.
  3. The size of the classroom is not an indication of its importance. A one-on-one interview can be as important as a sermon to a large audience, and it demands the same care and attentiveness.
  4. Teaching the gospel is more than communicating facts. It is inspiring good works and warning against sinful behavior. It is more focused on doing and becoming than on knowing.

Today, I will strive to be an effective teacher in my family. I will strive to follow the examples of great parents in the Book of Mormon and to take seriously my responsibility to teach the gospel to my children.

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Where Did the Sacrament Prayers Come From?

The prayers offered over the sacramental bread and water were given by revelation to Joseph Smith in 1820 (Doctrine & Covenants 20:75-79). They are nearly (but not precisely) identical to the prayers offered in the ancient American church as recorded by Moroni (Moroni 4, 5).

Moroni recorded those prayers in about 421 A.D. But much of the text of the prayers comes directly from the instructions that Jesus gave during His visit to the American continent. The following table shows the similarities between the words of the Savior and the words of the prayers.

The Savior taught… The prayers say…
“Ye must always pray unto the Father in my name” (3 Nephi 18:19). O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ,
He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul (3 Nephi 20:8). to bless and sanctify this [bread/wine] to the souls of all those who [partake/drink] of it
And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you (3 Nephi 18:7)
and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you (3 Nephi 18:11)
that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son
that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them
And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me (3 Nephi 18:7)
this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you (3 Nephi 18:10)
that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me (3 Nephi 18:11)
and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them
that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him
And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you (3 Nephi 18:7, 11) that they may [always] have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

Today, I will ponder the instructions the Savior gave to the Nephites when He instituted the sacrament among them:

  • we eat and drink the bread and water to our souls
  • we do this in remembrance of His body and blood
  • participation serves as a tangible affirmation that we will always remember Him
  • if we always remember Him, we will have His Spirit to be with us

I will be grateful that those key principles are repeated each Sunday before we eat the bread and again before we drink the water to help us focus our minds on what we are doing and why we are doing it.

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What Does It Mean to “Hearken?”

We don’t use the word “hearken” in modern English. But it’s an important word in the scriptures: It appears 229 times in the Old Testament, 9 times in the New Testament, and 100 times in the Book of Mormon. Deepening our understanding of the word “hearken” will help us better appreciate God’s messages to us in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

In the Old Testament, the King James translators used “hearken” to translate multiple Hebrew words:

  1. shama (שָׁמַע) – hear, obey (See Deuteronomy 11:13.)
  2. qashab (קָשַׁב) – pay attention, incline your ears (See 1 Samuel 15:22.)
  3. azan (אָזַן) – give ear, listen (See Numbers 23:18.)

So when Nephi asks his brothers, “How is it that ye have not hearkened unto the word of the Lord?” (1 Nephi 7:9), he is wondering why they aren’t paying attention to God, why they aren’t listening intently, and why their behavior doesn’t reflect what they have heard.

When the angel tells Nephi that Gentiles will be adopted into the house of Israel if they will “hearken unto the Lamb of God” (1 Nephi 14:1), he is inviting us to turn our hearts toward the Savior, learn about His teachings, and live according to them.

When King Benjamin warns his people not to “trifle” with his words, but instead to “hearken” to them (Mosiah 2:9), he is asking them to give him their undivided attention and then to do something about what they learn.

Hearkening requires concentration, absorption, and action. We listen, we internalize, and we do. Notice the comprehensiveness of Mormon’s admonition in the final chapter of 3 Nephi, which begins with the word “hearken.” After completing his account of the Savior’s visit to the American continent, Mormon says:

Hearken, O ye Gentiles, and hear the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, which he hath commanded me that I should speak concerning you, for, behold he commandeth me that I should write, saying:
Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel (3 Nephi 30:1-2).

Today I will hearken to the words of God. I will pay attention to the messages I receive from Him. I will strive to understand and internalize them. And I will act on them.

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What Should I Do When I Have Doubts?

To doubt is to vacillate, to be paralyzed by indecision.

The word descends from the Latin word dubitare, which is related to duo (“two”). Together with the related words dubiosus (“doubtful”), and dubium (“doubt”) it suggests an inability to decide between two incompatible alternatives (Online Etymology Dictionary, “doubt,” “dubious“).

In the Greek New Testament, one of the words which is rendered “doubt” is distazo (διστάζω). It is a combination of dis (δίς), meaning “twice” or “double,” and stasis (στάσις), meaning “standing” or “state.” So distazo is to stand in two places, to waver, to be stuck between two opinions. (See Matthew 14:31.)

The other word which is sometimes translated as “doubt” is diakrino (διακρίνω). It is also a compound word: dia (διά), which means “thoroughly” and krino (κρίνω), which means “to judge.” It has a connotation of over-analyzing things, of thinking so much about a decision that you never move forward. (See Matthew 21:21.)

After an angel appeared to Nephi and his brothers, promising them that they would be successful in retrieving the brass plates, Laman and Lemuel were not convinced. “How is it possible?” they asked (1 Nephi 3:31). In response, Nephi reminded them what they had just experienced: “Ye…know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt?” (1 Nephi 4:3).

Helaman’s 2,000 young warriors went into their first battle with no fear. Their mothers had taught them that “if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.” They told Helaman, “We do not doubt our mothers knew it” (Alma 56:47-48). And God did deliver them. Not one of them died. Helaman and the other soldiers attributed their miraculous preservation to their sincere belief “that there was a just God, and whosoever did not doubt, that they should be preserved by his marvelous power” (Alma 57:26). That belief impelled them to act and enabled them to fight without distraction.

Moroni urged his modern readers, “Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him” (Mormon 9:27).

In all three of these passages, doubt inhibits action. Only when we overcome our doubts will we begin to take the actions which can lead to miraculous results with God’s help.

After promising that God will answer our prayers, James warns us that we must not waver: “For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:6). The Greek word translated “waver” in that passage is diakrino, and some translations render it using the word doubt:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind (James 1:6, New International Version).

So what should I do when I have doubts? If those doubts are slowing me down or preventing me from acting, I need to overcome them. I can’t allow myself to become immobile simply because I am unable to decide. Like Nephi, I will remember experiences which have given me reasons to believe. Like Helaman’s armies, I will remember people of strong faith who have inspired me to believe.

Today, I will overcome my doubts. I will remember that when I act in faith, I can receive God’s power and experience miracles.

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What Should I Do When I Feel Inadequate?

Nephi wrote poignantly about his failure to live up to his own expectations. “O wretched man that I am!” he said. “I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me” (2 Nephi 4:17-18). He tried to overcome his failings by willpower alone, but in the end, it was his trust in God that gave him hope (2 Nephi 4:28-35).

Alma wished that he could be a more effective missionary. He wanted to speak with the convincing power of an angel. But he quickly corrected himself, calling this desire a sin and asking, “Why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?” (Alma 29:6).

God gives us weaknesses to make us humble, and as we grow closer to Him we become more aware of those weaknesses. This is how the gospel works in our lives. We humble ourselves as we recognize how far we fall short, and then we receive the assistance we need. “My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me,” the Lord told Moroni, “for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).

The apostle Paul learned this principle by experience. He said that he was given “a thorn in the flesh,” some physical or spiritual infirmity which kept him humble. He prayed three times for God to take it away, but that was not to be. Instead, God taught Paul that this weakness played a vital role in his discipleship: “My grace is sufficient for thee,” He said, “for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul learned to be grateful for his shortcomings:

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell once spoke to those who “have recurring feelings of falling forever short.” He reminded us to be fair to ourselves and to trust the Lord:

Some of us who would not chastise a neighbor for his frailties have a field day with our own. Some of us stand before no more harsh a judge than ourselves, a judge who stubbornly refuses to admit much happy evidence and who cares nothing for due process. Fortunately, the Lord loves us more than we love ourselves….
This is a gospel of grand expectations, but God’s grace is sufficient for each of us. Discouragement is not the absence of adequacy but the absence of courage (“Notwithstanding My Weakness,” General Conference, October 1976).

Today, I will remember the sufficiency of God’s grace. I will pay attention to my weaknesses, but I will not let them demoralize me or slow me down. I will trust that God can help me fulfill my missions in life in spite of my weaknesses, or perhaps even because of them: those weaknesses will keep me humble and remind me to seek His grace.

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