11 Wherefore, the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers, did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering the people to diligence; teaching the law of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was. And after this manner did they teach them.
12 And it came to pass that by so doing they kept them from being destroyed upon the face of the land; for they did prick their hearts with the word, continually stirring them up unto repentance.
Before the Apostle Paul became a church leader, while he was still fighting against the church, he had a miraculous experience on the road to Damascus which caused him to rethink his current course of action. He saw a bright light and heard the voice of the Savior saying, “Why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5, Acts 26:14).
The “pricks” probably referred to the discomfort caused by goads, sticks with sharp points on the end, as farmers signaled to their large animals the need to make a small course correction or to keep moving forward (“Goad,” Bible Dictionary).
As the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, “The words of the wise are as goads” (Ecclesiastes 12:11). The Savior’s message to Paul was a message of both reproof and empathy. He had been given many small warnings, “pricks.” By failing to respond to them and even fighting against them, he had made his own pain far worse than it would have been if he had responded appropriately.
In the passage above, Jarom speaks similarly about the work of church leaders among the Nephites. They taught the people the law, they prophesied of the coming Messiah, and they urged the people to stay on the gospel path. By “pricking” the hearts of the people continually, they were able to help the people avoid severe negative consequences.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf once told of a tragic airplane accident caused by a mistake in the flight coordinates of only two degrees. He said, “It is the early recognition of danger and a clear course correction that will keep you in the light of the gospel. Minor decisions can lead to major consequences” (“A Matter of a Few Degrees,” General Conference, April 2008).
As Elder D. Todd Christofferson has taught, a benefit of church participation is that we receive promptings to make those kinds of course corrections:
One of the greatest blessings of being part of the body of Christ, though it may not seem like a blessing in the moment, is being reproved of sin and error. We are prone to excuse and rationalize our faults, and sometimes we simply do not know where we should improve or how to do it. Without those who can reprove us “betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” we might lack the courage to change and more perfectly follow the Master. Repentance is individual, but fellowship on that sometimes painful path is in the Church (“Why the Church,” General Conference, October 2015).
Today, I will be grateful for the gentle reproofs that I receive from the scriptures, from church leaders, and from the promptings of the Holy Ghost. I will remember that these “pricks,” while uncomfortable, serve an important function: keeping me from straying too far off the path and helping me to avoid far greater pain. I will choose to respond to the corrective guidance I receive as the Nephites did in the time of Jarom, knowing that “kicking against the pricks” will only bring greater discomfort.