Suppose you were a farmer looking for a new cash crop and someone gave you a handful of seeds after making the following claims about their potential:
THE PLANTS THAT GROW FROM THESE SEEDS CAN BE USED TO
2.Speed fryer growth
3.Increase the egg production of hens
4.Make hamburger, pork, ham, or veal substitute
6.Make salad dressing, margarine, shortening, etc. with the oils
7.Make green salads
8.Make snack foods like peanuts or corn nuts
10.Create lecithin to help heart patients
11.Stop amoebic dysentery
12.Make cream cheese, crackers, waffles, cookies
14.Make highly resistant plastic steering wheels and car bodies
15.Make glue for plywood and paneling
18.Make an ice cream substitute
22.Create foam for fire extinguishers
23.Lubricate printing presses
24.Make baby, dog, and rabbit food
25.Make sauce for steak and spaghetti
27.Feed people by being shredded, sliced, deep-fried, smoked, etc.
28.Enrich the soil in which they are grown
You would have some choices in this matter. You could plant the seeds, nourish them and harvest them, or you could shake your head in disbelief and throw them away.
Of course there is such a plant. One of the most remarkable and beneficial seeds ever to come to this country evidently came first as ballast on ships from China. The seed was the soy bean, of which the USA is now the largest producer in the world.
But there was a time for farmers, just as there was a time for the poor Zoramites, when no one really knew what this seed would do. Alma 32-34 is the lesson of Alma and Amulek on spiritual agriculture to Zoramite farmers and modern farmers who have been experiencing spiritual crop failure. And we have the same choices mentioned above.
Alma and his companions, “after much labor” among the Zoramites, “began to have success among the poor . . .” (Alma 32:2). A “great multitude came to inquire of him” (32:4).
We have lamented the fact that it took the affliction of persecution by the rich to humble these Zoramites, but Almas response was one of “great joy.” (32:6). They were truly penitent and therefore teachable, and he did not seem to care very much why they were penitent. What events had induced the lowliness of heart? They were “poor” (32:3); they were “esteemed as filthiness,” (32:3); they were “despised of all men,” (32:5); and they had been “cast out of their synagogues.” (32:5).
Does the Lord ever fashion events in and around our lives to make us humble and teachable? How do we usually respond to such divine tutoring?
In this setting, Alma begins his lesson on spiritual horticulture.
What must we have in order to be willing to experiment with this incredible seed Alma has offered? Alma 32:31 tells us we must have hope; Alma 32:37 tells us we need desire. And we must want the promised harvest enough to try the experiment and plant the seeds. (32:27)
The first thing Alma tells his listeners they must do in order to obtain the fruit of the tree of life is give a place (32:27) for a portion of the words of Alma. What does it mean to “give place?” What must we do to “give place” for the seed or the word to be planted in our own lives? How would one who wanted to be a follower give place for Family Home Evening? How would he or she give place for family prayer or family scripture study or personal prayer? Before the seed can germinate, it must be planted, but before it can be planted we must find a place for it in the busy, busy fields of our lives. Imagine a farmer uprooting a quarter acre of radishes to plant the soy bean seeds mentioned above.
In the matter of Family Home Evening, the Church has rendered us great assistance by giving us a place unencumbered in any way by church responsibilities. “Here it is,” the prophets have said. “Monday night is your place to plant the seeds of family togetherness and family gospel study and family unity.” Do we use the place for that, or have we planted other crops there instead? I have often wondered if the appearance of Monday Night Football in precisely the same month as Family Night was a coincidence. What have you planted in the place the Lord has given you?
To plant other seeds we must find our own places, and to do so we must have at least a “particle of faith” (32:27), enough to pull the weeds or remove the less desirable crops, or resist the temptation to plant something else instead.
Once the place is prepared, we plant the seed. Alma tells us the seed is really planted in our hearts (see 32:28). Some will not plant the seeds. In spite of the promised blessings associated with this kind of gardening effort, some will discard the seeds away in favor of a more worldly harvest.
To such people Alma warns; “Do not cast it out by your unbelief . . .” (32:28).
Alma tells us that we will “begin” to notice four things in our lives if the seed we have planted is good. The key words used in his description are SWELLING, ENLARGE, ENLIGHTEN, and DELICIOUS. (32:28) Notice what the first letters of those four words spell . . .
Ponder the ways in which the truths of the gospel cause swelling, enlargement, enlightenment, and become delicious to you as you first become acquainted with them.
Alma suggests we will know the seeds are good if we have these experiences in our lives. (Alma 32:30-35). Even though we do not have a “perfect knowledge” at this time, these feelings and experiences strengthen faith and “are real” and “discernible.” They are meant to assure us that the seed we planted is a good seed, and to give us the courage to continue to nurture the plant.
What we have happening here is the very thing that happened when the first soy seeds were planted in this country. After a little time and a little water, tiny green shoots came through the soil reaching for sunlight. The farmers, seeing the seedlings, knew that the seeds were good and viable; that something was growing. They had not seen chicken feed or steering wheels yet, but they had seen something. Their faith in the seed must therefore have increased.
Notice the dangers Alma warns us about when the seed germinates and begins to grow: we must not “lay aside [our] faith, for [we] have only exercised [our] faith to plant the seed that [we] might try the experiment to know if the seed was good. He also warns us that we must not neglect the tree” and “take no thought for its nourishment” (32:38). If we neglect the tree or fail to nourish it, what will happen? It will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out (Book of Mormon | Alma 32:38, 39).
The ridicule of friends and family, the loss of education or employment opportunities is comparable to the scorching of the sun.
Notice how many times Alma speaks of “nourishing” the tree in order that it may “take root” in Alma 32:37-42? Alma 32:40-43 tells us that the fertilizer for this seedling consists of faith, diligence, and patience, and that all three are necessary even after the plant has begun to grow. He suggests that we must nourish these sprouting plants with “great care” (Alma 32:37).
In a magazine I received several years ago, I read about the man who discovered the Delicious Apple. He sold the rights to the tree to a nursery for something like $25,000.00 and the new owners began to market that variety of fruit.
If you were to plant this kind of tree, how long would it be before you were certain that your investment was a good one? You would need to give years of patience and diligence and great care, all of this sustained by the faith you had that the fruit would be worth the effort. By the way, I just ate a beautiful, red delicious apple, and my faith was reaffirmed: it was all worth it.
I have a feeling that there are many among us who have planted the seed and nourished the seedling, and who are now in possession of lovely green trees: shade trees! Of course there is nothing wrong with shade trees, unless we planted fruit trees, but it appears to me that in some cases our efforts have fallen short of the fruit we originally sought.
A shade tree would consist of gospel duties like paying tithing, attending meetings, going on missions, saying prayers, marrying in the temple, etc.
The fruit of the tree Alma offered the Zoramites comes into our lives from such experiences as having the windows of heaven opened, receiving or increasing our testimony, having our marriages sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, receiving answers to prayers, having power in the priesthood, receiving revelation, and the fruits mentioned in Galatians 5:22.
The Savior taught about fruit trees during his ministry (see Matthew 7:17-20). There is only one way to evaluate a fruit tree, and that is by the fruit. Where there is no fruit, or only bitter fruit, what is a fruit tree good for? Shade or fuel.
If you are not eating the fruit, this chapter suggests four steps. They are:
1. Give place
2. Plant the seed
3. Nourish the seedling
4. Eat the fruit
Reflect on experiences you have had which have strengthened your faith because you applied the principles suggested by Alma and Amulek that teach us how to exercise the faith mentioned in Alma 32:27. They are also seeds which, if given place and planted and nourished in lives will bring forth wonderful fruit.
Alma and Amulek suggest we exercise faith, diligence, and patience by our prayers (see Alma 33:3-11 and 34:18-27). Alma and Amulek suggest we exercise faith, diligence, and patience by believing and reading the scriptures (see Alma 33:12-18 and 34:30). Alma and Amulek suggest we exercise faith, diligence, and patience by looking to Christ and making him the focus of our lives (see Alma 33:19-23 and Alma 34:5-10). Amulek suggests we exercise faith by looking to Christ and making him the focus of our lives (see Alma 34:14-17, 30). Amulek suggests that we must exercise our faith, diligence, and patience by repenting (see Alma 34:31-36). Finally, Amulek suggests that we exercise faith, diligence, and patience in charitable service (see Alma 34:28,29).
The purpose of growing fruit trees is to be able one day to partake of the fruit. Almas description of this fruit is wonderful! If we give place for the seed, and then plant and nourish it, “by and by [we] 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 [we] shall feast upon this fruit even until [we] are filled, that [we] hunger not, neither shall [we] thirst. Then, my brethren, [we] shall reap the rewards of [our] faith, and [our] diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto [us]” (Alma 32:42 – 43).