Cover image via the Book of Mormon Videos.
2 Nephi 1-5 are the final words of Lehi to his children. If you were about to pass on, what would you tell your children? Lehi blessed them, prophesied and taught them how to find joy. As you read 2 Nephi 1-5, what questions come to mind? Here are a few questions and answers to help your study of these insightful chapters.
Question #1. Why didn’t Laman and Lemuel listen to their father? In 2 Nephi 1, Lehi promises, blesses and teaches; why didn’t his sons listen? Why didn’t they ever learn the dealings of the spirit? What lessons can we learn?
Ray Clifford tells the story of a visiting speaker from the U.S. who was asked to speak at a regional conference in Vienna, Austria. The speaker was speaking in English and a translator was translating into German for those in the audience.
The speaker noticed it was snowing outside and the chapel was quite cold inside, and began by saying, “Brothers and Sisters, I see that many are cold but few are frozen.” To which the translator said in German, “Our speaker has just made a marvelous play on words that cannot be translated. Would everyone please laugh.”[i]
Understanding a second language is full of complexities. For example, English has a single word for “blue.” Russian has two words: goluboy for light blue and siniy for dark blue. In Russian, these two words are basic colors like green or red in English.[ii] If you were translating the word “blue” from English to Russian, which Russian word would you use? Without the experience of seeing the colors goluboy and siniy it would be difficult to translate or understand.
Learning to hear and understand the voice of the Spirit could be compared to learning a language. Like shades of the color blue, perhaps we don’t fully understand or recognize spiritual utterances because of our lack of experience and familiarity with things of the spirit.
In their popular research The 30 Million Word Gap, researchers found that children who had parents who used more words and a broader vocabulary in the child’s infancy, had children who, even as they grew older and independent from parents had a more robust vocabulary and advanced cognitive abilities. Using more words and a broader vocabulary with children before the age of three had lifelong benefits. The researchers said, “when we listened to the children later in life, we seemed to hear their parents speaking.”[iii]
In our spiritual infancy, the more we are exposed to the Spirit’s voice and the more we “try on” spiritual things; the more we see things as God sees them. However, living in the spirit is more than just learning words. Laman and Lemuel heard the words of their father but didn’t learn to follow the voice of the spirit.
Lehi pleads with Laman and Lemuel, “Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent…” (2 Nephi 1:14). Why couldn’t they understand? Why wouldn’t they obey?
Nephi answers the question, “For [my father] truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought.” (1 Nephi 15:3,7).
In short, they didn’t look to the Lord to guide their actions. The language of the spirit requires a soft, willing heart. It requires that we look to the Lord first rather than the world. It’s learning to act on the enticements of the spirit rather than the enticements of the world. The enticements of the spirit are often subtle and gentle.
The language of the spirit is “line upon line and precept upon precept.” Therefore, we cannot receive the second precept without first receiving the first. Too often, we don’t follow the small and initial prompting, which then opens the door to subsequent feelings and impressions. We would do well to follow the small and seemingly less important impressions that come to us. It is in following these impressions that more direct revelation comes to pass.
In our daily life, the world is filled with enticements from social media, the internet, advertising, worldly pursuits and more. In the midst of these enticements are those of the spirit. If, like Laman and Lemuel, we don’t soften our hearts and look to the Lord for spiritual promptings, we can lose our power to act.
Elder Robert D. Hales said, “If we ignore…promptings, the light of the spirit will fade. Our agency will be limited or lost, and we will lose the confidence and ability to act.”[iv] That’s why Laman and Lemuel had marvelous manifestations but never learned to live in the spirit.
“Learning to recognize the Spirit, or promptings from the Holy Ghost, is much like learning another language. In fact, in many ways, it is! Just like those language immersion programs, the more we and our children are immersed in situations where we’ll have opportunities to feel the Spirit, the more we’ll recognize it, understand it, and over time become ‘fluent’ in it.”[v]
Learning the language of the spirit is to follow the enticings of the Holy Spirit. 2 Nephi 2:16 says, “Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” In this agency, we hone our ability to choose the better part.
“That which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God. (Moroni 7:13).” These enticings are the language of the spirit.
Not long ago, I was listening to Joy D. Jones, Primary General President speak on this topic and she said something that had a profound impact on me, “Enticements, both positive and negative, are real, and it is what we choose to do with them when they occur that will make all the difference in our daily lives. Can you be excited and motivated realizing that you can use every enticement to progress spiritually?”[vi]
Every enticement that comes our way is a chance for us to grow. Every time we choose to follow a good enticement and reject the bad, we are gaining spiritual power and broadening our spiritual vocabulary. Soon our ability to act, hear and know will be strong and firm.
This is the power of opposite enticements—they teach us how to gain spiritual power.
So, how do you get in the practice of following the enticements of the spirit?
The Lord expects us to live by faith. When we receive impressions, He expects us to act on those impressions without always knowing why. He uses this process to teach us. Obey, follow and do even if you are not completely sure why the Lord is asking you to do what you are impressed to do. If is good and “likely” revelation, do it. Then the Lord will reveal his will concerning the matter.
At missionary training centers, to encourage missionaries to immerse themselves in the language, they follow the motto “SYL” or speak your language.
How do you SYL the language of the spirit? Look to the Lord, seek and follow the promptings that come to you. What if this week, you decided to SYL with the spirit? You decided to look to the Lord first, pay attention to the enticings that came your way, and then act on those impressions? You would likely hear the language of the spirit.
King Benjamin taught, “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19)
“Most often, learning an instrument or language takes a great deal of effort, including practicing and sometimes making mistakes. So it is with the process of learning the language of the Spirit.”[vii]
When my mother was a young teenager, one Sunday she went to Sunday school. That day, her Sunday School teacher taught the concept of love and invited all the youth in the class to go home and tell their parents that they loved them.
My mother listened and followed the enticement of her teacher. After the class ended, she waited for the other children to leave, and then said to her teacher, “I can’t do what you asked me to do. I can’t tell my father I love him.” You see, at the time, my grandfather was a mechanic on an army base. He wasn’t active in the church. And he was often rough and mean, like an army mechanic, in his approach and “I love you” was not something they said to each other in their house.
“Well” the teacher said, “You have to do it. Even if your father has done what you say, he deserves your unconditional love.”
So, my mom went home. She sat in the kitchen and waited for my father to come home. She said, she couldn’t eat, couldn’t do anything until she did what she set out to do. My grandfather came home from his shift, and like normal, without much more than a nod “hello” to my mother, he washed his hands in the kitchen sink. Then, put the left-over supper on the stove. And as he put out his cigarette, with his back still turned towards my mother, she got up her courage and blurted out the words “Dad, I love you.” My grandfather did not turn around. He just stood there. So, she thought he hadn’t heard her, so she said even louder: “Dad, I love you.”
Then, my big burly grandfather turned around and he had tears streaming down his face. My mom stood up, hesitated, and then he opened his arms. She stepped over to him and he wrapped his arms around her and said, “I love you, Sis” as he kissed her on top of her head. As long as she could remember, this was the first time he had hugged her and said those important words.
It was then that my grandfather began to change. Years later, when I went to visit my grandparents, the first thing my grandfather did was hug me and told me he loved me. He had added I love you and other words of kindness to his vocabulary. When I knew him, he was a faithful and active member of the church.
I wonder what would have happened if my mother had not followed the enticement of the spirit in church that day. Do you think my grandfather would have changed?
In my experience, almost all revelation comes during the “normal” even boring repetition of our gospel lives. Many times, I have been sitting in a “less than interesting” priesthood lesson and the Spirit has whispered to me things that I needed in my life.
I once heard President Kimball say, “Be patient therefore with repetition, for something that may bore you today will lift your soul tomorrow.”
Of all the blessings we receive, do you not think that the majority come by way of the enticement of the spirit? Yes, God can change circumstances, soften hearts, and even heal sickness. But in my life, most of the blessings I have received have come by way of the small enticements that I chose to follow.
Question #2: What is the joy Lehi speaks of in 2 Nephi 2:25: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy?”
The Guide to the Scriptures says joy is “a condition of great happiness coming from righteous living.”
In 2016, President Nelson gave a landmark address on joy. In that message he said, “Just as the Savior offers peace that ‘passeth all understanding,’ He also offers an intensity, depth, and breadth of joy that defy human logic or mortal comprehension. For example, it doesn’t seem possible to feel joy when your child suffers with an incurable illness or when you lose your job or when your spouse betrays you. Yet that is precisely the joy the Savior offers. His joy is constant, assuring us that our ‘afflictions shall be but a small moment’ and be consecrated to our gain.
How, then, can we claim that joy? We can start by ‘looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith’ ‘in every thought.’ We can give thanks for Him in our prayers and by keeping covenants we’ve made with Him and our Heavenly Father. As our Savior becomes more and more real to us and as we plead for His joy to be given to us, our joy will increase.”[viii]
The joy that comes from Jesus Christ “passeth all understanding.” The joy that can come into our life through Jesus Christ will be a constant assurance of his love and purpose. We begin receiving that joy by inviting him to be a greater part of our daily walk and asking for that joy.
Neal A. Maxwell said, “To partake of the love of God, is to partake of Jesus’s Atonement and the emancipations and joys which it can bring.”[ix]
When we fully understand and partake in the atonement of Jesus Christ, and look to him in our life, we are filled with joy. But it needs to be the focus of our life.
President Nielson said, “My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation…and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives”[x] How can we focus on the Lord and his joy?
Every time we repent, we fill our soul with joy. Repenting of our sins results in a change in our nature and prepares us to live in joy.
President Nelson continues, “Joy is powerful, and focusing on joy brings God’s power into our lives. As in all things, Jesus Christ is our ultimate exemplar, ‘who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.’ Think of that! In order for Him to endure the most excruciating experience ever endured on earth, our Savior focused on joy!”[xi]
The Savior was able to overcome by focusing on joy. Can we do the same? Men are that they might have the joy of Jesus Christ and His atonement a real part of their life, and Adam fell so that this would be possible in our life. What if we lived focused on that joy? Would we be able to endure disappointments? Would we be more apt to repent? Could we serve others more wholeheartedly? Yes.
Often, we don’t feel joy because we fall short, we aren’t able to measure up or we give into our weaknesses.
“It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.”[xii]
The enabling power of the atonement can help us do more than we thought possible. It can help us to feel joy when we don’t have the power to feel joy on our own. It can help us overcome weaknesses, receive needed strength and lay hold on eternal life.
In 2 Nephi 5:28, Nephi says they lived “after the manner of happiness.” Perhaps it is because they lived looking to Jesus Christ and relying on his enabling power to guide them in their life.
As I think about the lessons learned from the lives of Laman and Lemuel, the words of Joseph B. Worthlin keep coming to my mind. He said:
“Prosperity can deaden us to spiritual things. It can give us the illusion of power. When we are sick, we can go to a doctor and get healed. When we are hungry, we can feed ourselves. When we are cold, we can get warm. In short, most of the problems of life we can solve ourselves—we can answer many of our own prayers.
Because of the relative ease many have in acquiring their daily bread, they can become deceived into thinking they are saviors unto themselves. In their pride and foolishness they feel they have little need of a Heavenly Father. They think little of the power that created the universe or of Him who gave His life that they might live.
In the Doctrine and Covenants we are warned of these modern-day idolaters: ‘They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world’ (D&C 1:16).
Such men fulfill the prophecy of Paul: ‘For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
Without natural affection . . . highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.’ (2 Timothy 3:2-5).”[xiii]
I think this is a good description of Laman and Lemuel. Could it be a possible description of us in our life? This is why Nephi told his brothers and us to “look to the Lord.” When we look to the lord and rely on him, we see things differently, we pray differently, we speak a different language and we find joy.
Taft Benson said, “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover
that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their
vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply
their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up
friends, and pour out peace.”[xiv]
[i] Ray T. Clifford, Language Learning: A Truly Educational Experience, BYU Devotional, June 13, 2017.
[ii] Catherine L. Caldwell, Our Language Affects What We See, Scientific American, January 15, 2019.
[iii] Betty Hart & Todd R. Risley, The Early Catastrophe, The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3, Retrieved from https://www.aft.org/ae/spring2003/hart_risley on January 26, 2020.
[iv] Robert D. Hales, To Act of Ourselves: The Gift and Blessings of Agency, Ensign, May 2006.
[v] Learning the Language of the Spirit: 7 Teaching Tips for Parents, churchofjesuschrist.org/blog, retrieved January 25, 2020.
[vi] Joy D. Jones, Look unto Him in Every Thought, BYU Speeches, August 21, 2018.
[vii] Linda K. Burton, Tuning Our Hearts to the Voice of the Spirit, CES Devotional BYU Idaho, March 2, 2014.
[viii] President Russell M. Nelson, Joy and Spiritual Survival, Ensign, October 2016.
[ix] Neal A. Maxwell, Lessons from Laman and Lemuel, Ensign, October 1999.
[x] President Russell M. Nelson, Joy and Spiritual Survival, Ensign, October 2016.
[xii] Bible Dictionary, Grace.
[xiii] Joseph B. Wirthlin, Improving Our Prayers, BYU Devotional, Jan 21, 2003.
[xiv] President Ezra Taft Benson, Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations, Ensign, Dec. 1988.