13 Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
14 Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son—of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given.
(3 Nephi 1:13-14)
Nephi was “exceedingly sorrowful” (3 Nephi 1:10). Five years earlier, Samuel the Lamanite had prophesied that miraculous signs would coincide with the birth of the Son of God: the sun would set, but there would be no darkness all night. Samuel had specified the timing of this event: five years (Helaman 14:2-4). In fact, many of the non-believers had begun to say that the time had past, and that Samuel’s prophecies had not been fulfilled. Not content with gloating that they had been right, these non-believers had threatened to kill all believers on a certain day if the sign didn’t happen as specified by Samuel (3 Nephi 1:5-6, 9).
With great sorrow and anxiety, Nephi “cried mightily to his God in behalf of his people” (3 Nephi 1:11-12). He prayed all day, and at evening time, he received the answer in the passage above. The Savior informed him that the time had come, that the appointed sign would be given that night, and that the following day, He would be born.
I think it’s significant that the Savior’s first words to Nephi were, “Lift up your head and be of good cheer.” Nephi had many reasons for the negative emotions he felt. Why would the Lord begin by telling him to be of good cheer?
- Negative emotions can prevent us from hearing the voice of the Lord. Fear, sorrow, and anger can overwhelm our emotions and prevent us from thinking clearly. Being of good cheer may have been a prerequisite to receiving the rest of the Savior’s message.
- With a short-term focus, there wasn’t much to be cheerful about. But the Lord wanted Nephi to see things with a broader perspective, to remember the reasons he had faith in the first place, and then to let that faith overcome his doubts and fears.
- Negative emotions can be debilitating. Sorrow, anxiety, and anger can sap our energy and prevent us from doing the things we need to do. By looking up and being of good cheer, Nephi was removing barriers to productivity and placing himself in a state to act.
There is a pattern in the scriptures of heavenly messengers urging their listeners to eliminate negative emotions and to find joy. For example:
- The angel who appeared to King Benjamin: “Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy” (Mosiah 3:3).
- The angel who appeared to Alma near the city of Ammonihah: “Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice” (Alma 8:15).
- The angel who appeared to Mary, the mother of Jesus: “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God” (Luke 1:30).
- The angel who appeared to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has taught us that pessimistic thoughts and words are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ:
Negative speaking so often flows from negative thinking, including negative thinking about ourselves. We see our own faults, we speak—or at least think—critically of ourselves, and before long that is how we see everyone and everything. No sunshine, no roses, no promise of hope or happiness. Before long we and everybody around us are miserable.
I love what Elder Orson F. Whitney once said: “The spirit of the gospel is optimistic; it trusts in God and looks on the bright side of things. The opposite or pessimistic spirit drags men down and away from God, looks on the dark side, murmurs, complains, and is slow to yield obedience.” We should honor the Savior’s declaration to “be of good cheer.” (Indeed, it seems to me we may be more guilty of breaking that commandment than almost any other!) Speak hopefully. Speak encouragingly, including about yourself. Try not to complain and moan incessantly. As someone once said, “Even in the golden age of civilization someone undoubtedly grumbled that everything looked too yellow” (“The Tongue of Angels,” General Conference, April 2007).
Today, I will strive to heed the Savior’s admonition to “be of good cheer.” I will recognize that hopeful and happy thoughts and words can lift me and others closer to God, enable us to receive messages from Him more clearly, and make me more productive by removing barriers to action.