17 But it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.
(1 Nephi 7:17)
We learn an important principle from Nephi’s prayer in this passage: our prayers can be more effective if we take responsibility for addressing our challenges with God’s help, instead of expecting God to remove the challenges for us. Think about the other ways Nephi might have formulated this request:
- Loosen these bands, so that they will be easy to remove.
- Change my brothers’ hearts, so that they will stop persecuting me.
- Send someone to rescue me.
Instead, he asked the Lord to strengthen him, so that he could do something about the situation.
It’s pretty easy to understand why Nephi’s request was preferable to the alternatives I listed above. God’s purpose is to help us grow and progress until eventually we receive eternal life. He can’t accomplish that objective if He always removes the very experiences which enable us to stretch ourselves and become stronger. God could have gotten Nephi out of this situation in many different ways, but because Nephi prayed for His strengthening power, he was able to meet the challenge and become stronger. Ultimately, this story is about Nephi’s spiritual growth, not about the ropes on his wrists nor about the persecution from his brothers.
I love the way Elder David A. Bednar talks about this event:
Do you know what I likely would have prayed for if I had been tied up by my brothers? “Please get me out of this mess NOW!” It is especially interesting to me that Nephi did not pray to have his circumstances changed. Rather, he prayed for the strength to change his circumstances. And I believe he prayed in this manner precisely because he knew, understood, and had experienced the enabling power of the Atonement.
I do not think the bands with which Nephi was bound just magically fell from his hands and wrists. Rather, I suspect he was blessed with both persistence and personal strength beyond his natural capacity, that he then “in the strength of the Lord” (Mosiah 9:17) worked and twisted and tugged on the cords, and ultimately and literally was enabled to break the bands.
The implication of this episode for each of us is straightforward. As you and I come to understand and employ the enabling power of the Atonement in our personal lives, we will pray and seek for strength to change our circumstances rather than praying for our circumstances to be changed. We will become agents who act rather than objects that are acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:14)
Today, I will follow Nephi’s example as I pray for help. Rather than asking the Lord to change my circumstances or eliminate my challenges, I will ask Him to strengthen me so that my efforts to overcome those challenges can be effective.