The Talk I Didn't Give Today

Last Sunday a member of the bishopric stopped by to ask me to give a talk today. I haven't given a talk for a few years, so I agreed, even though I only had a week to prepare. I also know I was going to be speaking last and wanted to prepare enough length to cover the time if needed.

It ended up being a very busy week, and although I had the talk in the back of my mind, I never got a chance to sit down and write anything out until last night. I planned to wake up early this morning in order to review it and make any adjustments I needed. I did wake up early, but unfortunately it was to the sound of S-Boogie throwing up in the bathroom. After helping clean things up, I got ready and headed to church with P.Bibby. Little Dude was being slow, so we left him to walk since I was anxious to get there early. A few minutes after we arrived, I got a text that Little Dude had gotten sick as well. It was not an auspicious start to the morning.

I decided to stick around since the older two kids can handle themselves for an hour without me, although I spent the entire meeting wondering whether my stomach felt funny from nerves or from something else. Thankfully the middle speaker took a long time with his talk, so I got to cut mine down quite a bit. I was fairly distracted and ready to get home, but after church I got quite a few compliments so I guess it worked out. We spent the rest of the day lounging around watching TV while eating crackers and 7-UP. Hopefully there will be no further illness from any of us. Since I had to cut my talk short, here's the written version. Honestly, I think it's a little dry and I liked my improvised version better, but I have no way to remember what exactly I said.

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I would like to do two things in this talk; first, I will talk about what the Book of Mormon has to say about the power of the scriptures, and then I will end by talking about my experiences reading the Book of Mormon, including our current challenge that we have been issued by our prophet Russell M. Nelson. 

The first, and most obvious example of the value of the scriptures to the people of the Book of Mormon comes right away in First Nephi. Shortly after Lehi and his family flee Jerusalem, the Lord appears to him in a dream and commands him to have his sons return to get the brass plates. Not only do the brass plates contain their own family genealogy, they also contain the laws and commandments, as well as prophecies of Christ. As we know, Nephi and his brothers return to Jerusalem, and after several attempts to obtain the plates, they only succeed after Nephi follows a prompting to kill Laban. 

Interestingly, while Nephi is encouraging his brothers to keep going after they have been rebuffed by Laban, he uses the scriptural example of the people of Israel being led out of Egypt by Moses:

1 And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?
2 Therefore let us go up; let us be strong like unto Moses; for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through, out of captivity, on dry ground, and the armies of Pharaoh did follow and were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea.
3 Now behold ye know that this is true; and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt? Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians.
(1 Nephi 4:1-3)

Nephi is obviously already well-versed in scripture, using it to strengthen his brethren and himself, relying on his testimony of God’s ability to lead his people. I find it interesting that in the first few books of the Book of Mormon, there are so many chapters directly quoting from Isaiah. Nephi and then Jacob were both aware that the small plates they were writing were an important, secondary record, meant for the most spiritual stories. And yet, nearly half the chapters in Second Nephi are direct quotes of Isaiah, and Jacob uses an entire chapter in his book to retell the prophetic allegory of the olive trees from the prophet Zenos. If the small plates are a precious record of their spiritual lives, why spend so much space on the words of other prophets?

21 And he surely did show unto the prophets of old all things concerning them; and also he did show unto many concerning us; wherefore, it must needs be that we know concerning them for they are written upon the plates of brass.
22 Now it came to pass that I, Nephi, did teach my brethren these things; and it came to pass that I did read many things to them, which were engraven upon the plates of brass, that they might know concerning the doings of the Lord in other lands, among people of old.
23 And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.
(1 Ne. 19:21-23)

This is a great example of how Nephi uses scripture to teach the people, likening the scriptures unto them and their current situation, and using the prophecies of Isaiah and others to build a testimony of Christ. We could paraphrase these verses to cover our own, current situation; We also have the scriptures before us as an example of the “doings of the Lord in other lands, among people of old”. I’ve always found it interesting to think about the fact that most of the Book of Mormon takes place before the birth of Christ. In some ways it feels like a mirror-image of our current situation, where we must rely on prophecy and the testimony of the Holy Ghost to come unto Christ for ourselves. 

Another example of the importance of the scriptures, later than Nephi, comes from the book of Alma. Beginning in chapter 31, we have the story of Alma the Younger’s mission to the apostate Zoramites. The Zoramites had been causing trouble for a while, and the Nephites were worried about possible future alliances with the Lamanites. However, instead of a military solution to what seems to be a political problem, Alma decides to go on a mission and preach to them:

5 And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.
(Alma 31:5)

One of the most well-known chapters in the Book of Mormon, Alma 32, comes next. However, we tend to only focus on Alma’s metaphor of the seed in the second half of the chapter. I like to back up a little and look at the question that was asked—the metaphor of planting the word of God in our hearts is the answer to that question. 

After they get to Antionum, Alma and his companions meet a group of people who have been kicked out of the Zoramite synagogues because they do not have fine enough apparel. One of the members of this group asks Alma what he and others like him can do to draw closer to God, since they are not allowed to worship in the synagogue like everyone else. He asks Alma “we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do?”

Alma talks to them a little bit about humility, and the difference between outer, circumstantial humility and inner humility that we bring about ourselves, then asks:

“14 And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?”

After a few more verses, Alma begins talking about the word, and how faith in the word of God is like planting a seed in our hearts. This is such a great metaphor because it makes so much sense. The word of God can bear fruit, but only if we provide fertile soil (a softened heart), and nurture it daily. We must keep working with patience and faith, and its growth depends on our inner, spiritual condition. Individual scripture study is the key for the Zoramites to come closer to God because they can do it in any time and in any place.

“41 But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.
42 And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.
43 Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.”

I have always like this metaphor, because seeds are fragile things and need constant daily nourishment. I’m terrible at remembering to take care of plants and water the every day; you can see this when you come to my house and look at the pathetic, half-dead plants in my living room. The only reason why my garden survives is the automatic sprinkler system. When we plant the word in our hearts, like a seed, it needs to be nourished every day. You can’t just water it once and call it good. This is why we are counseled to read the scriptures every day, to keep building and protecting our faith little by little. 

I have read the Book of Mormon a number of times in my life, beginning when I was only 11 years old. Sometimes I have read it quite quickly, other times very slowly. For a few years, I got out of the habit and my scripture study had been sporadic. Then I decided to recommit and study more thoroughly. About two years ago, I began studying with the help of a book that asked a lot of questions about each chapter in the Book of Mormon. I took my time reading, pondering what different things meant, taking a lot of time to write down impressions in my notebook, and looking up connections to other scriptures. It was a powerful experience and I felt like I got a lot out of my scripture study. When I finished earlier this year, I thought I might start something similar with the Old Testament to go along with this year’s Sunday School theme, but I never got around to it (yes, I know it’s November and now too late). I just started reading the Book of Mormon again. 

Then, during General Conference, President Nelson challenged women to read the entire Book of Mormon before the end of the year. I will confess that I was undecide for a while. Should I start where I was at, and just read faster to make it before the end of the year? Should I not worry about it, since I was studying the scriptures every day? Then I was given a sheet with an outline of chapter goals to follow, and thought “Why not?” I’m still getting caught up to where I should be; I’m barely starting Mosiah when I really should be somewhere near the middle of Alma. President Nelson also invited us to mark each verse that refers to the Savior; I started doing that as well. His goal in doing this is “Please teach those whom you love what you are learning from the scriptures. Teach them how to turn to the Savior for His healing and cleansing power when they sin. And teach them how to draw upon His strengthening power every day of their lives.” 

We will begin studying the New Testament with the New Year, and I’m realizing that finishing this year by doing a quick reading of the Book of Mormon with attention to its references to Christ is a great way to get ready for this. As I mentioned earlier, the Book of Mormon is primarily the story of a people who were anticipating the coming of Christ, as taught by their prophets. Isn’t that us as well? We also read prophecies of Christ in the scriptures, both the story of his birth and mortal life, and his anticipated Second Coming. While I love slow, close reading, there are larger patterns and context that are coming through in a sustained, bigger-picture sweep through the book. 

For example, as I was reading through the ‘small plates’ at the beginning of the book, I was very aware of how Nephi was constructing the narrative. The first few books were not written at the time the events happened, but much later after they had reached the promised land, when Nephi was commanded to create a second record primarily focused on their spiritual highlights. As I was reading through First and Second Nephi, looking for references to Christ, I was struck by how often Nephi referred to being guided by the Lord in all he did. In telling his history, Nephi creates a narrative about the Lord guiding his family through the wilderness. He acknowledges the Lord’s hand in all the does. This made me wonder how much I acknowledge the Lord in my day-to-day life. Do I express my testimony of his guidance when I see it? Do I talk about my gratitude for his love?

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