The Book of Mormon contains many sermons. Some were delivered to hostile audiences, some to congregations of believers, and some to audiences of one. The interesting point to me is that the sermons to very small audiences, generally a father talking to one of his children, are not materially different from the sermons delivered to large numbers of people. Doctrines are taught, convictions are shared, and counsel is given just as would happen with a much larger audience.
Two Book of Mormon prophets, Lehi and Alma, gave a series of messages to their sons. Lehi taught Laman and Lemuel, Jacob, and Joseph. Alma taught Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton. Today, I’ve given some thought about what I can learn from these private sermons which can help me teach the gospel to my own family. Here are some thoughts:
- Take the time to talk with your children individually. Both of these fathers found an opportunity to provide guidance which was customized to the individual challenges and strengths of their children.
- Express confidence in your children. Lehi told Jacob that, in spite of the difficulties he had experienced, God would “consecrate [his] afflictions for [his] gain” (2 Nephi 2:2). Alma praised Shiblon for his “steadiness” and “faithfulness unto God” (Alma 38:2). And he even expressed confidence that Corianton, who had committed serious sins, could fully repent and positively influence the lives of other people (Alma 42:29-31).
- Take the time to understand them. Both of these fathers customized their messages to the needs of each child. Lehi taught Jacob about opposition because Jacob was born in the wilderness and had endured significant adversity (2 Nephi 2:1). Alma addressed three doctrinal questions which had been confusing to his son Corianton. Both fathers knew what messages their sons needed to hear because they knew their sons.
- Use the scriptures. Lehi used the story of Adam and Eve to explain opposition and agency to Jacob (2 Nephi 2:17-25). Alma also referred to Adam and Eve as he explained to Corianton that this life is a time of probation (Alma 42:2-10). Lehi used the story of Joseph in Egypt to teach Joseph about his spiritual heritage (2 Nephi 3).
- Share personal experiences. Alma shared with both Helaman and Shiblon his conversion story (Alma 36:6-23, Alma 38:6-8). Lehi reviewed with Laman and Lemuel the miracles the family had experienced during their journey to the promised land (2 Nephi 1:1-3).
- Give guidance. Lehi told Laman and Lemuel to “arise from the dust,… and be men” (2 Nephi 1:21). Alma identified Corianton’s sins clearly and then commanded him to repent (Alma 39:1-9). Both fathers recognized their duty to correct their children. “I would not dwell upon your crimes,” said Alma, “if it were not for your good” (Alma 39:7).
- Testify. Lehi said to Jacob, “I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer” (2 Nephi 2:3). Alma said to Helaman, “I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day” (Alma 36:3). Both fathers told their children clearly what they knew to be true.
As I thought about this last point, I remembered the following counsel given by Elder David A. Bednar a few years ago:
Each of us already knows we should bear testimony to the people we love the most. But what we know is not always reflected in what we do. We may feel unsure, awkward, or even perhaps a bit embarrassed.
As disciples of the Savior, we are not merely striving to know more; rather, we need to consistently do more of what we know is right and become better (“More Diligent and Concerned at Home,” General Conference, October 2009).
Today, I will improve the way I individually teach my children. I will express confidence in them. I will strive to understand them better, so that my guidance can be personalized to their needs. I will teach them using both the scriptures and my own personal experiences. I will provide guidance as needed. And I will be bold in sharing my testimony of the things I know to be true.