What Are the “Tender Mercies of the Lord?”

In the first chapter of the Book of Mormon, Nephi describes a series of revelations which his father Lehi received. Lehi learns that his city, Jerusalem will be destroyed, and he attempts to warn the people of the city. In response, they mock him, threaten him, and try to kill him. Nephi ends the chapter with a bold assertion: “I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Nephi 1:20, italics added).

Where did Nephi get that phrase? He had heard his father use it. Lehi had described to his family a spiritual dream in which he found himself in “a dark and dreary waste.” After traveling “for the space of many hours in darkness,” he “began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on [him], according to the multitude of his tender mercies” (1 Nephi 8:7-8).

Lehi and his family had obtained a set of brass plates containing the books of Moses, a history of the Jewish people, and the writings of prophets (1 Nephi 5:11-12). Those plates likely also contained the book of Psalms, which refers to the “tender mercies” of the Lord ten times. In two of those passages, David refers to “the multitude of [God’s] tender mercies,” the same phrase used by Lehi (Psalm 51:1, Psalm 69:16).

Elder David A. Bednar had an experience which helped him to better understand the meaning of this phrase. Just before he delivered his first talk in general conference as a newly called apostle, Elder Bednar stood with the congregation to sing a hymn which had been selected long before he received this calling: his favorite hymn, “Redeemer of Israel.” At that moment, he said:

My mind was drawn immediately to Nephi’s phrase “the tender mercies of the Lord,” and I knew in that very moment I was experiencing just such a tender mercy. A loving Savior was sending me a most personal and timely message of comfort and reassurance through a hymn selected weeks previously. Some may count this experience as simply a nice coincidence, but I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence….
the Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ….
I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are available to all of us and that the Redeemer of Israel is eager to bestow such gifts upon us. (“The Tender Mercies of the Lord,” General Conference, April 2005).

Many years before Lehi’s family traveled to the American continent, another family led by a man named Jared and his brother made a similar journey. They sat in enclosed barges for 340 days singing praises to God while “mountain waves broke upon them,” and they were driven by “the fierceness of the wind.” When they arrived at the promised land, they “did humble themselves before the Lord, and did shed tears of joy before the Lord, because of the multitude of his tender mercies over them” (Ether 6:6-12). They were able to recognize and be grateful for God’s blessings, which they had received throughout the long and difficult journey they had just completed.

Today, I will remember that God loves us and frequently sends us gifts which we may only recognize if we are watching for them. I will strive to follow the examples of Nephi, Lehi, Elder Bednar, and the Jaredites, watching for tender mercies in my life and expressing gratitude for their abundance.

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