A young boy decided to teach a Family Home Evening about the 2,000 Stripling Warriors. He made everyone a cardboard sword covered with aluminum foil, and essentially declared a free-for-all for his family. While the kids had a great time clutching their throats and “dying” with full theatrics (and a younger sister closed with a prayer that “we will all be violent warriors”), the true story was missed. The real reason the young soldiers went to battle was to preserve the oath of their fathers not to fight. And the reason not one was lost was not due to remarkable armor, but due to their faith in God.
Our standard works are filled with drama, excitement, glory, and tragedy. From the time we’re in Primary, we become familiar with the suspense of Daniel in the Lion’s Den, the amazing gathering of animals for Noah’s ark, Nephi slaying Laban, the phenomenal parting of the Red Sea.
Undoubtedly scriptures make fabulous stories. Indeed, dozens of movies have been made depicting the sweeping epics from holy writ. University classes such as “The Bible as Literature” are taught throughout the world. And treating these accounts as legends or myths can be greatly entertaining-but vastly incorrect.
While it’s probably better to know the stories this way than not to know them at all, it still falls short of the immense power and the dazzling treasure that awaits those who read these stories for the purpose intended.
Only a fraction of ancient events are available to us as scripture. Compilers of sacred books, often inspired, not only wanted to preserve records, but to include accounts that truly capture the majesty of God, the blessings of obedience, and the miraculous mission of Christ. It is doubtful they hoped their stories would be made into movies, or included in a college curriculum.
Yet, partly because the stories are so riveting and incredible, they are often read for their “and then guess what happened” quality, instead of treated as the jewels of instruction they can be. Many scriptural passages are genuine page-turners, as the phrase goes, and the casual reader is tempted to do exactly that-race through to see what happens and how it ends. Instead, scriptures need to be studied and pondered slowly, with the constant question, “How can this apply to my life?” posed frequently and humbly.
Many of us set reading goals to finish a certain number of verses or chapters by a chosen time. And this is a good way to zip through for an overview. But it doesn’t tap into the power of the scriptures to literally mold our lives and help us improve. All it does is give us a story line, and the names of some prominent characters.
Instead, we should slow down, pause, and pray as we read, for the guidance that could be lying right before us– guidance that can help us navigate life’s challenges.
Look at the story of Ammon. It’s a “wow” story, a favorite of youngsters who marvel at a man who could cut off the arms of his enemies, astounding all who watched. But this is not the story of a swashbuckling swordsman fighting pirates. This is the story of a devoted missionary who saw the opportunity to show the king and his servants what the power of the priesthood could do. He knew this could create the ideal teaching situation.
Do we rejoice, as Ammon did, when a challenge arises? Do we see it as a chance to show others how courageously a Latter-day Saint can respond to obstacles? Do we meet our misfortunes with reliance upon God and with unwavering faith?
Abinadi boldly testified before the wicked King Noah and his priests, obedient to his maker until his dying breath. Even though he knew he would be burned at the stake, not once did he turn to God and say, “I’m old, I’m tired, and I’ve served.” Are we as valiant until the very end?
Everyone cheers when David slays Goliath, but this isn’t the story of an underdog defeating a giant thanks to his shepherding skills; this is the story of showing the Philistines that the God of Israel is the real God. With Him behind us, we cannot fail. Do we place our full trust in him, or do we try to lean upon our own devices, skills, education, and mortal strength? Do we pursue success to build the kingdom and proclaim victory for God, or because of worldly accolades?
Even the numerous wars in the Book of Mormon can apply to our daily lives. Families, just as armies, fail if unity is lost and dissension dominates. As we read about doomed warriors who forget their God, we learn that we cannot prevail in the end if we do the same.
The scriptures are replete with examples of wayward children whose parents remain faithful and are blessed. As a youth we can apply these to keep ourselves on the correct path and avoid the consequences of sin. As parents we can see that our own efforts are not necessarily to blame, and that through faith, all will be made whole eventually.
In every story of a soul reclaimed there is a double message. For those who need to repent, the message is of encouragement to come home again. For those who need to forgive the message is to do so freely and leave the judging to God. In both cases we must set aside our pride and let Christ’s atonement work its miracles.
Throughout the Doctrine and Covenants we read admonitions given to specific leaders of the time. By inserting our own names into their places, we can often take needed counsel that comes to us more personally this way. And always we can realize that the Lord knows each of us as individuals, knows our names, and knows our needs.
Yes, the scriptures are exciting. And yes, the power of the priesthood of God beats any Comic Superhero’s power you can imagine. But these people are real. Their stories are there to teach us. If we can set aside the entertainment aspect long enough to apply them to our lives, we can be forever changed. And instead of just reading about King Benjamin’s followers who experienced that change of heart, we can be one of them.
Joni Hilton’s latest book is just out! “FUNERAL POTATOES-THE NOVEL” (Covenant Communications) is now in LDS bookstores.
She has written 17 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. She is also the author of the “As the Ward Turns” series, “The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club,” and “The Power of Prayer.” Hilton is a frequent writer for “Music & The Spoken Word,” many national magazines, and can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California.