Cover image: Mormon Abridging the Plates, by Tom Lovell.
In 1803, James Monroe boarded a ship bound for Paris. Monroe, a senator, governor of Virginia, and Secretary of State to Thomas Jefferson, would later become the 5th President of the United States. He was the last U.S. president elected who served in the Revolutionary War.
Six feet tall with brown wavy hair, Monroe was an exceptional politician, and he was formidable. He would later be the only President elected with 80 percent of the vote. On this trip, however, he would have to use all his skills to secure his assigned goal. His assignment came from directly from Jefferson himself. But despite his skill and the support of his President, Monroe was unsure if he would succeed.
Convince Napoleon Bonaparte that if the French did not sell the city of New Orleans to the U.S., Monroe would head directly to England and sign a lasting treaty with the British.
Monroe was authorized to spend $10 million for New Orleans. Why? New Orleans was the gateway for imports and commerce to the south. The Mississippi river was the main shipping thoroughfare for much of the south. Spain had quietly ceded Louisiana to the French to gain peace and protect their ownership of Florida. While under Spanish control, New Orleans was open to all shipping—because the Spanish could be bribed. But under French rule, New Orleans would be uncontrollable.
When Monroe arrived with his letter from Jefferson, he learned more about Napoleon’s intentions: Napoleon needed funds to pay for his campaign against Britain, and with the Louisiana territory of little value to Napoleon, Napoleon upped the offer and asked only $15 million for the entire territory.
Since Monroe was authorized to pay $10 million for New Orleans, he rightly assumed the U.S. would gladly pay $15 million for the entire territory. Monroe readily accepted, Jefferson agreed, congress ratified the agreement and with a $3 million down payment, the purchase was made.
Do you know what states were included in the Louisiana territory?
Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota.
It represented 828,000 square miles, the US paid $.03 cents per acre. In today’s dollars, the purchase is equivalent to $237 million or $42 per acre.
It is estimated that recoverable oil in the United States is 264 billion barrels. This compares to Saudi Arabia of 212 billion barrels and Russia with 256 billion barrels. Most of this oil is in the Louisiana territory and the value of the oil is $12 trillion.
What is the real value of the Louisiana territory today? Over $100 trillion. Napoleon, supposed to have been one of the smartest strategists of his day, failed to see the value in this vast territory because he was focused on his war with the British and needed money to pay for his conquest. He let worldly lust prevail in his life.
This is not unique to Napoleon. This happens in our day, all the time. Things which some people see of great value, others see as having no worth. When things of lesser value prevail it soon crowds out the things of most value until we can’t see the real worth.
Nephi wrote, “For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels. (1 Nephi 19:7)
Mormon witnessed his people turn from that which was of most worth and let wickedness prevail in their hearts and minds. “But wickedness did prevail upon the face of the whole land, insomuch that the Lord did take away his beloved disciples, and the work of miracles and of healing did cease because of the iniquity of the people.” (Mormon 1:13)
President Nelson recently said, “The only way to survive spiritually is to be determined to let God prevail in our lives, to learn to hear His voice and to use our energy to help gather Israel.”[i]
Both Mormon and President Nelson used the word “prevail.” One definition of prevail is to “gain ascendancy” and another “to be frequent.” In other words, what prevails in our life is what ascends in importance and what we focus on most.
Prevail also implies a struggle that must be endured. When the struggle, the wrestle is over, what will remain? What will prevail? When we stay faithful despite the pull of worldly things, we have prevailed in our faith.
President Nelson continues, “For a moment, let us recall a crucial turning point in the life of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. At the place Jacob named Peniel (which means “the face of God”), Jacob wrestled with a serious challenge. His agency was tested. Through this wrestle, Jacob proved what was most important to him. He demonstrated that he was willing to let God prevail in his life. In response, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning ‘let God prevail.’”
Perhaps the name Israel was given to Jacob to remind him to let God be most important and frequent focus in his life. And perhaps that name was given to all of Israel for the same purpose.
What of you and me? President Nelson asks:
“The question for each of us, regardless of race, is the same. Are you willing to let God prevail in your life? Are you willing to let God be the most important influence in your life? Will you allow His words, His commandments, and His covenants to influence what you do each day? Will you allow His voice to take priority over any other? Are you willing to let whatever He needs you to do take precedence over every other ambition? Are you willing to have your will swallowed up in His?”
God loves a willing heart. Coupled with obedience it is perhaps the most important characteristic in discipleship. It trumps intelligence, overcomes wickedness, and is the qualifications for those desiring to serve in the Lord’s kingdom (D&C 4).
To “let God prevail” may mean in our small everyday decisions, we let the will of God prevail. We choose prayer rather than the immediate demands of the day. We choose scripture study rather than entertainment. We choose to obey rather than the enticings of the moment.
When we let the Lord prevail, we look to Him first. The Lord said, “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.” (D&C 88:67).
When we comprehend all things, we can discern. We can lead our lives, guide our children and find hope in our lives. What a gift, to comprehend all things—to have discernment and understanding!
If there were one characteristic that parents could pass on to children that would be of most help throughout their life, it might be to “let the Lord’s will prevail.” But the beginnings of such character must be first found in us. To lift someone in the boat, you must be in the boat yourself.
Marion G. Romney said, “How can we give if there is nothing there? Food for the hungry cannot come from empty shelves. Money to assist the needy cannot come from an empty purse. Support and understanding cannot come from the emotionally starved. Teaching cannot come from the unlearned. And most important of all, spiritual guidance cannot come from the spiritually weak.”[ii]
In today’s world where wickedness prevails, what better gift could we give than to teach by who we are that God can prevail in our lives.
Richard L. Evans said, “Sometimes we speak as if just setting an example were enough, but it isn’t so much something we set as it is everything we are. Parents, teachers, everyone, and all of us are an example, no matter what we do—or don’t do. Whether we are honest or dishonest, concerned or indifferent, fair or unfair, we are an example of some sort, every hour and every instant. The important point is what kind of example? Where are young and impressionable people going if they go where we’re going, if they do what we’re doing, if they think what we’re thinking—if they became what we are? And there is really no way for anyone to separate himself into segments, to say at this hour I will teach this, at another hour I will teach something else; for a teacher teaches what he is himself as well as teaches his subject—and so does a parent; so do companions; so does a community.”[iii]
When my children were younger, one morning our 16-year-old daughter was giving the family devotional to her younger brother and sisters. I watched their faces as she shared her testimony. Every eye was seeing and every ear was hearing as she shared her feelings. She was creating within them more faith—they were taller and straighter when she was done. Three days later I watched young Elizabeth stand and bear her testimony to her older brothers and sisters. She was sharing her testimony because her sister shared hers. I thought about the gift Kristen had given her. “Someday.” I thought to myself, “Elizabeth will bear her testimony to hundreds or thousands because of this simple gift.”
Mormon tells us that because of the people letting wickedness prevail in their life, “there were no gifts from the Lord, and the Holy Ghost did not come upon any, because of their wickedness and unbelief.” (Mormon 1:14)
This insight from Mormon causes us to ask the question, “What are the gifts from the Lord that come to those who let righteousness prevail in their life?”
It seems that these gifts of which Mormon speaks are gifts that help us become more like God. Elder Marvin Ashton wrote:
“Let me mention a few gifts that are not always evident or noteworthy but that are very important…. the gift of asking; the gift of listening; the gift of hearing and using a still, small voice; the gift of being able to weep; the gift of avoiding contention; the gift of being agreeable; the gift of avoiding vain repetition; the gift of seeking that which is righteous; the gift of not passing judgment; the gift of looking to God for guidance; the gift of being a disciple; the gift of caring for others; the gift of being able to ponder; the gift of offering prayer; the gift of bearing a mighty testimony; and the gift of receiving the Holy Ghost.”[iv]
Because they are called “gifts,” we can conclude that the ability to have these characteristics is given from God. Does letting God prevail in our life result in gifts being given to us that help us become who we could not become on our own? Yes.
One gift is the gift to change. Change is not easy. Overcoming habits is not easy. One who is entrenched in a behavior or habit may think, “change is impossible.” But with God all things are possible. He can and does send gifts to help us change. In my life, when I have struggled most, gifts have come my way from heaven. Often these gifts have been in the words of a friend, example of someone in my life, and changes in circumstances. But perhaps the gift that has enabled me to change the most is the sacrament ordinance made possible through the atonement of Christ.
Will wickedness prevail or will God prevail? I believe that any time and every time we choose to let God prevail, even in small ways, we are given gifts that enable us to change. I have seen the sinner who begins to let God prevail is given grace that enables him/her to grow in strength and ability.
A gift that stands apart is the gift to grow in grace–to grow through the grace of Christ. I have seen power come into my life through the sacrament and exercising repentance. I have seen people make changes they thought were impossible, over time, through the power of the grace of Jesus Christ.
Elder Bruce Hafen wrote, “The Atonement in some way, apparently through the Holy Ghost, makes possible the infusion of spiritual endowments that actually change and purify our nature, moving us toward that state of holiness or completeness we call eternal life or Godlike life. At that ultimate stage we will exhibit divine characteristics not just because we think we should but because that is the way we are.”[v]
The atonement and sacrament ordinance are the supernal gifts from God that enable us to change.
President Benson said, “Temples and Temple Ordinancesa-Benson, Ezra TaftTPYes, there is a power associated with the ordinances of heaven–even the power of godliness–which can and will thwart the forces of evil if we will be worthy of those sacred blessings. This community will be protected, our families will be protected, our children will be safeguarded as we live the gospel, visit the temple, and live close to the Lord.”[vi]
These gifts are dependent on a broken heart and contrite spirit, and the desire to repent. Without a willing heart, these gifts are not given. In Mormon chapter 2:10, we read: “And it came to pass that the Nephites began to repent of their iniquity, and began to cry even as had been prophesied by Samuel the prophet.”
Mormon started to rejoice in hopes that the people would turn again to the Lord and “knowing the mercies and long-suffering of the Lord, therefore supping that he would be merciful unto them that they would again become a righteous people.” (Mormon 2:12)
“But,” Mormon says, “this my joy was in vain, for their sorrow was not unto repentance because of the goodness of God…and they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits.” (Mormon 2:13-14)
The Lord loves a willing heart. Perhaps it is because it is the only thing we can give him that matters. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:
“The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. . . . The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him. . . . There is a part of us that is ultimately sovereign, the mind and heart, where we really do decide which way to go and what to do. And when we submit to His will, then we’ve really given Him the one thing He asks of us.”[vii]
The question is can we maintain a willing heart in the face of great adversity in our life? As you read Mormon chapter 6, you may be wondering how old was Mormon when he laments, “Oh ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord?”
By that time, Mormon was 74 years old. He was 10 years old when Ammaron asked him to care for the plates. For 64 years, he had lived in a wicked world and remained faithful and true. In describing the world and people around him, Mormon wrote: “But now, behold, they are led about by Satan, even as a chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her; and even as she is, so are they.”
How do we live in a wicked world and yet remain faithful?
Richard G. Scott said, “Know that God is in control. In time, Satan will completely fail and be punished for his perverse evil. God has a specific plan for your life. He will reveal parts of that plan to you as you look for it with faith and consistent obedience. His Son has made you free—not from the consequences of your acts, but free to make choices. God’s eternal purpose is for you to be successful in this mortal life. No matter how wicked the world becomes, you can earn that blessing. Seek and be attentive to the personal guidance given to you through the Holy Spirit. Continue to be worthy to receive it.”[viii]
The ultimate gift that God has given us to remain faithful in a wicked world is the gift of the Holy Ghost. In Moroni 10:5 we are promised that through the Holy Ghost we can “know the truth of all things.” Moroni 8:26 says, “because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer.”
As you ponder on these six chapters of Mormon, consider the power of placing the right value on the things of heaven. As Mormon said to us in our day, “O ye Gentiles, how can ye stand before the power of God except ye shall repent and turn from your evil ways.” It is possible to repent, turn to God and let his will prevail in your life. Yes, the wickedness of the world will increase. Those who let wickedness prevail will be blown about like the chaff in the whirlwind. But those that let God prevail will be given the gifts of grace that can lead them safely to that which is of most worth: eternal life.
[i] Russell M. Nelson, Let God Prevail, General Conference, October 2020.
[ii] The Celestial Nature of Self Reliance, Ensign, November 1982, 93.
[iii] The Spoken Word, Ensign, August 1971, 52.
[iv] Marvin J. Ashton, There are Many Gifts, October Conference, 1987.
[v] Bruce Hafen, The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life’s Experiences, 18.
[vi] The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 255 – 256.
[vii] Neal A. Maxwell, Sharing Insights From My Life, BYU Speeches, 12 January 1999.
[viii] Richard G. Scott, How to Live Well Amid Increasing Evil, October 2004 Conference.