After the death of Lehi and before two sides of the family went different directions, Nephi presents ‘the things of his soul.’ No longer constrained by their father Lehi, the older brothers now began to talk of death instead of their earlier abuse of Nephi. The righteous portion of the family would shortly flee for their lives, beginning the centuries of struggle between Nephites and Lamanites.
Found in 2 Nephi, chapter 4, the younger brother of Laman and Lemuel seeks to share his thoughts in what must have been a very stressful time. This psalm provides an insight into the heart and thoughts of Nephi and provides guidance to all of us in times of testing.
The following contains some of my thoughts as one reads through this fourth chapter of the second book of Nephi in the Book of Mormon.
15 And upon these I write the things of my soul, and many of the scriptures which are engraven upon the plates of brass. For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.
16 Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.
The scriptures represent a source of wisdom and understanding unequaled by any other physical object around us. For many years, I dutifully read the scriptures, both individually and as a family. I was proficient in responding with the pat answers and scriptures to the quadrennial questions in Sunday School. But, as a spiritual crisis mounted around me, I could no longer be satisfied with the pat answer. I first began by seeking out the books of the thoughts of man. My library of Mormon theology and Christian History expanded to hundreds of items. I spent much time reading and pondering these works assuming the I could find another person who could give me the answers I was looking for.
Slowly I realized that I had been looking in the wrong places. Much like the drunk who looks for his keys under the lamppost because the light is better, I sought to rely on the sometimes errant thoughts of others as my source for second hand spiritual knowledge. Today, my sizable collection of books is for sale and I have learned that the scriptures contain more of what I was looking for than I had ever conceived. Nephi got it right; I delight in the scriptures and my heart ponders the deeper meaning that had eluded me for many years.
17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
18 I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.
19 And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
The culture of the church requires that we put on a good face and present ourselves as pristine pillars of piety, unmarred by the stains of the world around us. Our leaders do not, as Nephi did, speak of their weaknesses and temptations, and we are not disposed either. Instead, we carry on as resolute as the pioneers, a stern face and a distain for those who show weakness or reek of their addictions. What would the church be like if Nephi’s example were carried forward? Would we be willing to express our fears and weaknesses to the body of the church? Would we, as Nephi, be willing to admit our temptations and failures? Humility would be the gain, and pride would flee.
20 My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.
21 He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
22 He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.
How great was the faith of Nephi? I marvel at his story when, as a young man, he had the audacity to seek the same vision as his father. In 1 Nephi 10:17-19, one reads: ‘I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently see him… for he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them…’ Could we exhibit the same kind of faith and reliance on the Lord in this day? Are we not promised that we can receive the same things that Nephi received?
23 Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time.
24 And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me.
25 And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them.
Are ‘visions of the night-time’ anything other than our dreams? How do we treat our dreams in this age of sophistication? Lehi’s encounter with the tree of life took place in a dream. Are we losing a valuable source of knowledge when we dismiss our dreams as products of our diet or environment? As for me, I have found certain dreams to be filled with information and insight. By carefully recording and pondering the symbolism found in our dreams, would our knowledge of God and his plans be enriched? I believe the answer is ‘yes.’
Prayer represents our desire to communicate with our Father. If there is anything, in my mind, that is our task in this mortality, it is to come to know and love our Father in Heaven. Raising our voice in solemn prayer represents a conduit to this understanding. Could it be that through prayer, mighty and meaningful, we would be able to call down the ministering angels to us?
26 O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?
27 And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?
28 Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
29 Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.
One of the hardest obstacles in my life has been to move away from allowing events around me to trigger a yielding to neglect of duty or sin. It can be so easy to let my ‘strength slacken’ when confronted with today’s afflictions. The message to me in this part is that true happiness comes only from reliance on God. We cannot control the events around us but we can control how we react to them. I must continually remind myself not to ‘slacken my strength because of my perceived afflictions.’
30 Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
31 O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?
32 May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!
33 O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.
Have you experienced the all-consuming joy that comes through the power of the Holy Ghost? It is not just a burning in the bosom but a complete spiritual makeover. It brings with it the power to sanctify and cleanse and leaves you with no desire to do evil. I speak of the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost promised to those who diligently seek God. One of the prerequisites is a ‘broken heart and a contrite spirit.’
34 O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.
35 Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.
I believe that Nephi’s warning regarding the arm of flesh pertains to any reliance on another human for our spiritual structure. The warning here is that we must seek and achieve a relationship with God, solely upon our own efforts, to acquire this state of happiness. No stake president, apostle, or prophet can sanctify us. It is only found in the relationship we build with God.
What think ye?