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This article is part of a series on the Word of Wisdom. To view all the articles in this series, see Discovering the Word of Wisdom.
Naaman, the captain of the Syrian army, was a great and honorable man, but he was a leper. Persuaded that he could be healed in Israel, he made his way to the door of the house of Elisha the prophet. Elisha sent his messenger out and instructed Naaman to wash himself seven times in the river Jordan.
Naaman was incensed. He expected the prophet himself to come out and call down the powers of heaven to heal him. He retorted that the waters of Syria were better than all the waters of Israel and went off in a rage. Fortunately, his servants spoke up:
If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? (2 Kings 5:13)
Then Naaman humbled himself:
Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. (2 Kings 5:14)
In our search for health and well-being, many of us, like Naaman, are willing to go to the ends of the earth to find the answers we so desperately seek. When I think of the many hours I have spent searching for answers from medical experts, research articles, books, family, friends, the Internet and anywhere offering advice, I know I am not alone. Nor am I the only one who has spent quite a bit of money on medical treatments of all kinds: doctor’s visits, prescription medications, surgeries, supplements, alternative health professionals, superfoods, health gadgets, and other costly programs and procedures that promised healing and health.
Of course many of these treatments are of use. It is not unusual to find helpful answers in our search for healing. They are everywhere, but the search can be exhaustive and the answers often feel like only another step on a journey that appears to have no end.
The Word of Wisdom way to well-being is quite different. Note that the prescription the Lord gives is quite simple. Instead of asking us to understand difficult concepts or prescribing expensive medications, supplements, or health gadgets, He instead gives us simple counsel that will save us money: abstain from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea. Further, the diet He prescribes is simple and inexpensive: wholesome herbs and grains . . . with meat reserved for times of need (D&C 89). His counsel is really is very simple . . . something like washing ourselves seven times in the river Jordan.
Many times we expect answers to vexing health issues to be something that is hard to do or that involves spending a lot of money. Even Naaman was prepared to purchase his recovery with an enormous amount of wealth. It can be difficult to believe that some of the most important factors of good health lie in simple remedies.
Out of Small and Simple Things
The Liahona was a simple tool that delivered Lehi and his family from a potential health crisis. When Nephi’s bow broke, they were left without means to secure food in the wilderness. It was only when they humbled themselves and showed “faith and diligence” that the Liahona gave them the directions they needed to find food. Nephi observed:
And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things. (1 Nephi 16:29)
What were the “small means”? It was their faith and diligence in giving heed to the directions written on the Liahona, which Nephi tells us were “plain to be read.” Is it possible that the more faith and diligence we give to the word of the Lord, the more “plain” His words will appear to our understanding?
The Serpent of Brass
The brass serpent fashioned by the prophet Moses was yet another small and simple means by which the Lord prepared a way for His children to be healed physically. Because of their murmurings, the Lord sent among the children of Israel “fiery serpents,” whose bite led to death. When the people pled with Moses to petition the Lord to take away the serpents, the Lord did not make the threat to their health disappear, but instead he prepared a simple means by which they could be healed. He directed Moses to mount a serpent of brass on a pole. All the people needed to do was to “look,” and “if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Num. 21:9).
Alma tells us that many Israelites “did look and live” (Alma 33:19), but surprisingly, many did not look. Why didn’t they just look? Alma explains:
the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them. (Alma 33:20)
Ironically, because the only “labor which they had to perform was to look” (1 Ne. 17:41), many hardened their hearts and would not look and live. Nephi records:
because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished. (1 Nephi 17:41)
Will We Look?
In these last days, the Lord has again prepared a simple means by which His children can be healed physically. Today we have the modern equivalent of the Liahona and the Brass Serpent. It is called the Word of Wisdom and is found in D&C 89. How fortunate we are that in our search for health, we can look to the plain prescription the Lord has given us and heed the simple directions we see written there. How blessed we are if we look and live!
What do you see when you look at D&C 89? Is there one small and simple thing you see that you could do?
Most of us are willing to undergo drastic health measures like open-heart surgery and chemotherapy to save our lives. There are times when drastic measures are needed, but are we equally willing to the simple things, like changing what we put into our mouth? Could eating more wholesome fruits, vegetables, and whole grains be one of the “small and simple” things we could do?
The Lord tells us the directions in the Word of Wisdom are simple, that they are:
adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints. (D&C 89:3)
Just as giving faith and diligence to the Liahona and looking at the Brass Serpent were the small and simple means the Lord prepared in days long ago to save His children from illness and death, so the Word of Wisdom provides the small and simple means given by God for the “temporal salvation of all saints in the last days” (D&C 89:2).
But like the Liahona, we must do more than simply look at D&C 89. We must also apply our faith and diligence, as Oliver Cowdery learned when he tried to translate the Book of Mormon by taking “no thought save it was to ask” (D&C 9:7). As the Lord instructed Oliver, so he instructs us:
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. (D&C 9:8)
Perhaps one reason the Lord describes the Word of Wisdom as adapted to the weakest of Saints is that any of us can study the counsel in it, find at least some truth, receive confirmation of that truth from the Lord, and then implement whatever we do understand (no matter how incomplete) into our lives. Is this not the path that will then lead to further light and knowledge as we continue to return to the Word of Wisdom and apply this same pattern?
Other Simple Things We Can Do
There may be many other simple things we can do to better understand the counsel in the Word of Wisdom. Here are three I’d recommend for your consideration:
- Watch (or re-watch) the documentary Fork Over Knives. Compare the message in this film with the counsel in the Word of Wisdom.
- Read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. Think about how the Lord has provided a way for His children in all parts of the world to enjoy the nutritious foods that are the foundation of health.
- Eat one whole food, plant-based meal a week. Save the recipes you like. When you have 3–4 recipes, try going 1–2 days a week whole food, plant-based. Keep trying new recipes. When you have 6–7 you like, try going a full week.
If you are interested in more ideas about the small and simple ways to move toward a modern Word of Wisdom diet, see: Baby Steps to Whole Food, Plant-based (WFPB) Diet.
I’m Just a Poor Messenger
I sympathize with Elisha’s servant, the messenger he sent to inform Naaman of what he should do. Like Elisha’s servant, I’m not the expert. Instead, I’m one of the weak or weakest of all saints. But the message is not flawed simply because the messenger is weak.
The people selling us rich and refined foods are the people who have the money to get their message out to the world. In contrast, there is no budget set aside to promote the Word of Wisdom. The Lord has to rely on each of us to do our part to share the small and simple means the Lord has prepared for the health of His saints. In this work, the words of the Apostle Paul can give us hope:
God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. (1 Corinthians 1:27)
Let us not forget that “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise” (Alma 37:6).
Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great. (D&C 64:33)
For help getting started on a healthy Word of Wisdom diet, see: “Getting Started.”
Jane Birch is the author of Discovering the Word of Wisdom: Surprising Insights from a Whole Food, Plant-based Perspective and many articles on the Word of Wisdom. She can be contacted on her website, Discovering the Word of Wisdom. Watch the video “Discovering the Word of Wisdom: A Short Film.”