(This article is associated with my book, Rescuing Wayward Children. Click here to learn more. Receive the entire Pillars of Zion series free. Click here.)
My youngest son, McKay, is preparing to turn in his mission papers. Recently, my wife and I sat down with him and asked him how we might help him prepare. He thought a moment then gave us an answer that we were not expecting. “I’ve always had trouble understanding the scriptures and how to receive revelation.” Then addressing me directly, “Maybe you and I could read them together.”
Children can amaze you! No talk of buying suits, luggage or the transition of leaving home for two years–McKay wanted to learn how to use the scriptures as a source of power and an instrument of revelation. Family scripture reading had offered him a foundation, but now our missionary son was feeling the weight of a mission, and he was asking for my help.
The next night, we sat on the couch and I asked, “What scriptures have you been reading?”
“The D&C,” he replied.
“I love the Doctrine and Covenants,” I said, “but let me suggest that we start with Book of Mormon.”
“Because the Book of Mormon is like no other book that has ever been written. Joseph Smith told us that we can come closer to God by studying and obeying the precepts in the Book of Mormon than any other book. The prophets call it our latter-day Urim and Thummim.”
So we started with 1 Nephi. McKay began to read: “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents-.”
I stopped him. “Reading the scriptures is part of a conversation with God and should be started with prayer.” McKay was agreeable, but his expression revealed that he didn’t understand. I explained, “Conversations are between two parties, each taking turns. When you pray, you talk to God; when you read the scriptures, God talks to you. Ask God for the help you need in your life. Ask questions that are on your mind. Express your concerns, and ask for solutions for your weaknesses and problems. Invite the Holy Ghost to attend you in your scripture study and reveal God’s answers to your mind.”
McKay offered a beautiful prayer then started to read out loud. When he had completed the chapter, I asked him what he had learned. He picked out typical scriptures and gave answers that one would learn in Primary, but nothing he had learned by revelation. Remembering the things that he had enumerated in his prayer, I pointed out scriptures and symbolisms that offered answers and solutions. Then I asked, “Do you see how the scriptures can help you hear the voice of the Lord and how the Spirit can teach you?”
He nodded, but I wasn’t convinced. As he marked the scriptures we had talked about, I gave him some instruction. “We must remember that the Book of Mormon was written by prophets who had the remarkable ability to see our day in detail. Their calling was to scan the history of their people to find parallel stories that would offer solutions to our individual and global challenges. From the very beginning of the Book of Mormon, we are given permission to liken the scriptures,’ meaning that we can exchange our name for Nephi, Mosiah or anyone else, and the instruction and promises will be identical.” Then I added, “Within the scriptural story there are principles, and the principles reveal a Relationship: your relationship with God. The scriptures become powerful when we read them to find the principles and discover the Relationship.”
That was enough for one night. Over the next few nights, we followed the same procedure: McKay began with a specific prayer, he read a chapter, we shared what we each had learned, we identified principles that spoke to his prayer, and we drilled deeper to discover the Relationship. Then, on the seventh day, something remarkable happened: McKay received a revelation!
He had been reading 1 Nephi 7. Nephi had suffered abuse from his brothers, who had bound him with cords and threatened to take his life. Nephi could not break free, so he prayed, “O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound. And it came to pass that when I had said these words, behold, the bands were loosed from off my hands and feet….”
When McKay had started our session with a prayer, he had expressed his concern that, as a missionary, he would know how to help people repent and choose a new life in Christ. How could he explain that it was possible to break free from the bondage of their lifestyle? How could he convey that hope to them? When he had read 1 Nephi 1:17, he paused, pondered a moment, and said, “When your enemy binds you and threatens your life, you can cry unto the Lord for mercy and strength and He will deliver you.”
Wow! I’ve sat in hundreds of Sunday School and priesthood classes, and I have never heard that doctrine expressed so succinctly. How many adults struggle through life and never learn or exercise this simple, powerful truth?
Even McKay didn’t quite get it, so I asked him, “Do you know what just happened?” He shook his head. I prodded, “How did you come to that conclusion?”
“Well, I was thinking about some of my friends who are bound down by addictions and problems, and they feel hopeless because they can’t break free. I never know what to tell them, except to encourage them to keep trying. But I’ve been doing it all wrong. I should tell them that the Lord can break the bonds, if they will pray for his help.”
In that moment, I ceased being concerned that McKay would become an effective priesthood holder and missionary.
Over the past seven days, I had been watching for this transformative moment, the transition from relying on me as the teacher to relying on the Holy Ghost to be the teacher. McKay had looked to me to point out the principles in the scriptures, but now he was learning how to become independent in the gift of revelation.
My previous instruction had been to help him look deeper into the scriptures and attune his ear to the instructive whisperings of the Spirit. Now McKay had heard! He was learning how the Book of Mormon could become his personal Urim and Thummim.
His breakthrough gave us an opportunity to discuss how he might use the scriptures to teach people how to repent and receive the Lord’s deliverance. Earlier, we had read how Nephi had taken a stand with an oath: “I will go and do.” We reviewed that verse in connection with similar verses where Nephi had used the phrase, “as the Lord liveth,” to make an oath. “This is covenant language,” I explained. “In ancient days, when a person took an oath with this kind of language, he was essentially asking God to become his partner. The task at hand was too difficult without God’s help. As the Lord liveth’ is the same as saying, “I promise in the name of Jesus Christ. I will go and do’-not I will go and try.’ I will succeed, no matter what, because God, my partner, will help me.”
In the case of Nephi, after he had made an oath, he continued trying, enduring every adversity and attempting every option until God, who was his partner, opened the door to success, ensuring that Nephi could keep his oath. Likewise, people who are in need of repentance and cannot free themselves from the bonds of the enemy of their soul can make an oath–“as the Lord liveth”-then cry unto the Lord for strength, and God will become their partner and deliver success.
I told McKay, “When you are a missionary, you will work with some missionaries who have made and kept the oath: I will go and do. Consequently, they will be powerful, productive and happy. Then you will meet others who have made a half-oath: I will go and try. Consequently, these missionaries will likely be weak, ineffective, distracted and unhappy. Which type will you be? Can you make and keep an oath to live the mission rules?”
When he said yes and meant it, he said with Nephi’s resolve. Our conversation reminded me of an exchange of oaths between Nephi and Zoram: “And I [Nephi] spake unto him, even with an oath, that he need not fear; that he should be a free man like unto us…. And it came to pass that Zoram did take courage at the words which I spake…. and he also made an oath unto us that he would tarry with us from that time forth…. And it came to pass that when Zoram had made an oath unto us, our fears did cease concerning him” (1 Nephi 4:33-37). Similarly, my concerns for McKay ceased when he made an oath.
After McKay affirmed his promise, I said, “When you gain a testimony of the power of this type of oath, you will be in a position to testify of it to people who stand in need of deliverance and who seek forgiveness.” I reminded him of a lesson in the Book of Mormon that might help him teach that principle.
The time was when the Nephites were at war for their lives. In that story, Captain Moroni is cast as the Christ figure, Amalikiah and Ammoron are the Satan figures, and the war symbolizes the conflict for the souls of men. I explained that the Book of Mormon describes how people like Moroni can become Christ figures. A Captain Moroni could be a missionary, Church leader, parent or a worthy friend. Such people take a stand with an oath to protect the vulnerable ones from Satan and his followers.
McKay’s concern had been how he might teach repentance and deliverance to people on his mission. A thought entered my mind. Expanding on the symbolism of captains and war, I showed him how great leaders, like Moroni, when faced with an attack, often gathered their people as a defensive measure. But defense was only the first phase of their strategy. These great leaders then fortified and prepared their people while they watched for opportunities to strike back or drive the enemy out. Likewise, missionaries might help a sinful person defend himself by standing with him and giving the person time to become strong so that he could begin to fight back.
“Imagine fighting across a field of battle toward an objective,” I said. “Each time you take a few steps, the enemy will oppose you, but you must hold your ground. As you do, you become stronger and the enemy withdraws and becomes weaker. Similarly, to overcome sin, you must fight forward one step at a time and hold your ground against certain opposition. Think of each step as a battle. If you give way, the enemy will drive you back and you will have to regroup and start over. But if you press forward and hold your ground each step, and if you do this over and over, one battle at a time, the enemy will eventually weaken and flee.
“That is how repentance works: push one step forward, hold your ground, take another step, hold your ground, and continue one battle at a time until you reach your objective. And, of course, your oath to win the war (not try to win) makes God your partner, and together, you will win-guaranteed. Consider D&C 98:14-15: Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy. For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me.'”
After our scripture session, I went to my home office and began to research the words of the prophets concerning the power of the Book of Mormon and verification of the things we had discussed. Here are some statements that struck me:
President Benson taught, “[The Book of Mormon] is a keystone in helping us avoid the deceptions of the evil one in these latter days. Satan rages in the hearts of men and has power over all of his dominions (see D&C 1:35).
But the Book of Mormon has greater power-power to reveal false doctrine, power to help us overcome temptations, power to help us get closer to God than any other book.”[i]
Instructing Church leaders, President Benson said, “Oh, my brethren, let us not treat lightly the great things we have received from the hand of the Lord! His word is one of the most valuable gifts He has given us. I urge you to recommit yourselves to a study of the scriptures. Immerse yourselves in them daily so you will have the power of the Spirit to attend you in your callings. Read them in your families and teach your children to love and treasure them…. Do we, as Saints of the Most High God, treasure the word He has preserved for us at so great a cost? Are we using these books of latter-day revelation to bless our lives and resist the powers of the evil one?”[ii]
President Benson said, “When Laman and Lemuel asked, What meaneth the rod of iron?’ Nephi answered, It was the word of God; and [note this promise] whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.’ (1 Ne. 15:23-24.) Not only will the word of God lead us to the fruit which is desirable above all others, but in the word of God and through it we can find the power to resist temptation, the power to thwart the work of Satan and his emissaries.”[iii]
When children finally experience that breakthrough moment when they recognize the voice of the Spirit in the pages of sacred scripture and begin to sense revelation and testimony settle upon them, parents feel to rejoice. It is a time when parents can hand children off to the Lord, secure in the knowledge that the children now know how divine communication flows and how to receive answers and help.
President Benson asked Church leaders, “Do you have members in your stakes whose lives are shattered by sin or tragedy, who are in despair and without hope? Have you longed for some way to reach out and heal their wounds, soothe their troubled souls? The prophet Jacob offers just that with this remarkable promise: They have come up hither to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul.’ (Jacob 2:8; italics added.)…. when individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently, these other areas of activity will automatically come. Testimonies will increase. Commitment will be strengthened. Families will be fortified. Personal revelation will flow.”[iv]
And later, President Benson said, “I challenge mission leaders to show their missionaries how to challenge their contacts to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it. Missionaries need to know how to use the Book of Mormon to arouse mankind’s interest in studying it, and they need to show how it answers the great questions of the soul.”[v]
Elder Richard G. Scott, quoting Elder Marion G. Romney, said, “If we would avoid adopting the evils of the world, we must pursue a course which will daily feed our minds with…the things of the Spirit. I know of no better way to do this than by daily reading the Book of Mormon (Ensign, May 1980, p. 66).”[vi]
I eagerly await the letters from my soon-to-be missionary son, who now understands a principle of power that eludes too many and blesses too few.
This article is associated with my book, Rescuing Wayward Children. Click here to learn more. Receive the entire Pillars of Zion series free. Click here. Would you like to help our Internet missionary project? Click here: www.gospelideals.org.