Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
It’s passages like this one at the end of 3 Nephi 19 that make writing articles like this so hard. 3 Nephi 19:33-34 tells us that the Nephites heard and understood the words of the Lord with their hearts in a way that simply could not be written. Their power, it seems, just could not be expressed through the written word. So, here we are, reading something. Wait a second, there must be more to this, right? If we would understand in our hearts in a way that could be eternal—that could become so much a part of who we are that it rises with us in the resurrection—the words we read, write, and even speak must be only the beginning.
The power of these chapters to help us hear Him depends not on what we do by reading them, but upon what we do once we’ve finished reading them. If we rush off without a second thought, they will wither—forgotten in shallow ground. But if we take a moment—even a simple sixty seconds—to ponder, ask, listen, or just send a text to someone about them, the words of these chapters can change us like they changed the Nephites.
So, as a prelude to a hopefully unwrite-able understanding to come, here are five ideas on how to take our first steps on that road.
1. The pattern of a master teacher
At the beginning of 3 Nephi 17, the Lord had just finished teaching a pretty lengthy sermon. What He did afterward shows us just what a master teacher should do after a lesson like that. It’s alright, He explains in verse two, you don’t have to understand everything all at once. You know what, He said, go home, take a break, sleep on it, and I’ll come back and teach you some more tomorrow. In doing this, the Lord teaches us a few crucial lessons about learning.
First, do it at home. The teaching and learning that happens within the walls of our own homes, whether it has to do with the scriptures or schoolwork or how to change tires and diapers, is more likely to stay with us wherever we go than learning that happens anywhere else.
Second, once at home, ponder, says the Lord. Pray so He can help you understand things: chemistry, piano, taxes, your teenager—He understands them all. And though He may not fix all of these problems for you right away, He surely can bring peace and understanding to your heart.
Third, prepare your minds for more. Once you’ve slept on it, taken a break—be ready for more, because just like the Nephites who knew He was coming back the next morning, we have a promise just as sure that there is more to come, no matter how much we think we’ve already learnt.
2. He can heal us no matter our affliction
This is perhaps the clearest, most beautiful story in all of scripture. Unlike the various miracles of the New Testament that came in a variety of circumstances healing afflictions unique to those who bore them, this story teaches a lesson all its own. The Lord’s promise is boundless. To any and all who were or are afflicted “in any manner,” He says, “I will heal you.”
This was a fulfillment of prophecy. In Alma 7:11-13, we read that the Lord would not only intellectually comprehend the pains and afflictions of His children, but that He would know “according to the flesh how to succor His people.” With that intimate, experiential knowledge of what it feels like to be afflicted “in any manner,” He both knew how and had the power to heal every single person there.
What are your afflictions? With what sins or hardships are you burdened at this time? Whatever it is, He can heal us. Nothing falls outside the reach of His love and nothing falls beyond the reach of His power to heal. Because of this promise, first, that there is a being with the power to heal us of anything, and second, that that being has no other motive than perfect love for us, we need never fear again.
3. On the meaning of remembrance
In 3 Nephi 18, the Lord administers the sacrament to His people and in doing so makes the promise that, if they would always remember Him, they would have His Spirit to be with them. Sounds familiar, right? We hear the same promise every week in the sacrament prayers. But what does it mean to remember Him always? What does that even look like?
Do we, like the girl in the movie Inside Out, have little crystal balls in our heads that contain all of our memories? Or is it like in Harry Potter when Dumbledore pulls memories out of his head and gently places them in the pensieve for Harry to see?
I’m not so sure. The way it sounds in the scriptures, remembrance isn’t so much about putting a file into our brains as it is something we consistently do, or, as Alma says it, “always retaining in remembrance.” So, if we would have His Spirit always with us, we need to do something: talk about Him, pray to Him, read about Him and even try to act like Him. When we do these things, we remember Him, not once, as in putting a thing in our head’s long-term storage unit, but as daily actions of both hand and heart. This is how we remember Him. This is how He can be with us always.
4. How to pray by the Spirit
In 3 Nephi 19:24, we learn about how the Lord’s disciples prayed. It says that they did not multiply many words because “it was given unto them what they should pray.” Now, I’m not the best at this, especially after a long day at work, but when I make time to focus, I promise this really does work. If we take time before just blurting out our prayers and listen instead, if only for a moment, the Lord will give us ideas about what to pray for, who to pray for, what to say in gratitude, and other things. In so doing, our prayers, as it says in the Bible Dictionary entry on “prayer,” will come to represent the mind and will of the Lord more and more and we can know with more confidence that He will answer them. In short, like the disciples in 3 Nephi, if we take a moment of silence to listen before we pray, we can have more confidence that the things we’re prompted to say in prayer will be answered.
5. All that holds Him back is unbelief
In granting such answers to prayer, says 3 Nephi 19:35, there is nothing that holds the Lord back so well as our own disbelief. Speaking of the Jews at Jerusalem, the Lord says that He could not show them such great miracles as He did to the Nephites for one simple reason: their unbelief. So, if we would see a God of miracles in our lives today, we should heed the words of Moroni: He is still a God of miracles today—always has been, always will be. The difference is us. What miracles await our letting go of fear and doubt and accepting this truth: that the Lord’s hands are all-powerful except for the one thing that can tie them: us. The power is in Him to heal us, to help us, to teach us, to lead us. The only question is, will we let Him?