Recently, my husband and I just found out that something we’ve been fasting and praying for (and felt directed to pursue) is not going to work out. It was discouraging and confusing. Hadn’t we prayed with faith? Wasn’t it a righteous desire? Hadn’t we followed what we thought the Lord wanted us to do?
As I kept reading my scriptures and pondering our problem, I came across a story from the Book of Mormon that I have read many times, but the Lord allowed me to see powerful things I had never seen before.
Lehi, a prophet who was warned by the Lord to flee Jerusalem before it was destroyed, (he lived during the same time period as Jeremiah) had left Jerusalem, but was commanded to send his sons back to get the brass plates from Laban. His four sons, Laman & Lemuel (the two rebellious ones) and Sam & Nephi (the righteous ones) obediently returned.
This is where the story gets interesting. Everything goes wrong. Laman attempts to go by himself to try and persuade Laban to give him the plates. Laban is furious and Laman has to flee for his life. Next, the brothers gather up all of their gold, silver, and valuable items from their dad’s old house and try to buy the plates from Laban. Laban seizes their treasure and sends guards to kill them! They out-run the soldiers and hide in a cave. Laman and Lemuel are so mad that they beat Nephi and Sam with a rod!
At this point, if I were Nephi, I’m sure I would have been confused. I’m sure Nephi had felt inspired by the Lord to gather up his father’s precious things and try to buy the plates. Had I been him, I would have been tempted to think: Maybe that wasn’t a prompting from the Lord. Maybe I’m not worthy to receive revelation. The Lord doesn’t care about me. He’s not helping me.
Too often something goes wrong in our lives and we start assigning reasons to it – God doesn’t love us anymore, He’s not hearing our prayers…. That is what Satan wants us to believe. But an eternal truth is that “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come” (Jeffrey R. Holland, Ensign, Nov. 1999).
The Lord did love Nephi. He was watching over him and helping him. I’m sure the Lord wanted Nephi to expend his best efforts. The fact of the matter was that it just wasn’t supposed to work out that way. That’s it. It didn’t mean Nephi had done something wrong or that things wouldn’t eventually turn out. God was working miracles behind the scenes and the TIMING wasn’t right yet for Nephi to obtain the plates.
Nephi was totally out of ideas at this point. He did not know what to do, but he knew he was NOT going to give up! The courage he shows is astounding. After nightfall, his brothers hide outside the walls, but Nephi walks into the city and starts heading towards the house of Laban. He reports “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing before hand the things which I should do” (1 Nephi 4:6).
To make a long story short, the Lord delivers Laban into his hands. Nephi takes Laban’s clothes, dresses up like him, and goes and finds Zoram, the keeper of the brass plates. Zoram asks him many questions as they walk and Nephi answers him IN THE VOICE OF LABAN and talks with him as if he were Laban. A true miracle. As soon as Zoram and he are outside the city walls, Nephi calls to his brothers (in his regular voice) and Zoram, realizing Nephi is not Laban, runs for it! Nephi catches him and bears his testimony to Zoram “Surely the Lord hath commanded us to do this thing.” Zoram can’t dispute that. He decides to join Nephi and his brothers.
So why did it have to be so hard for Nephi to get the plates?
Why couldn’t Nephi waltz in, ask for the plates and Laban says, “Sure! Have them! And have a piece of cake on your way out!” Nephi was on the Lord’s errand. The Lord told Him to do it. I would have been like, “Um, Lord you told me to do this. A little help would be nice!”
If Laban had given the plates to Nephi the first time they had asked for them, Nephi would have left Jerusalem without a VITAL person: Zoram! Although Nephi couldn’t understand why it had to be so hard, God was busy working miracles behind the scenes in behalf of a righteous man whom God knew needed to go with Nephi and would be a great friend and support to him.
The descendants of Zoram were a HUGE blessing to the Nephites (the descendants of Nephi, Sam, and the others righteous people). The Lamanites (the descendants of Laman, Lemuel, and the other wicked people) outnumbered the Nephites in war. Without the Zoramites, the Nephites may have been destroyed.
Further Reasons The Journey Needed to be Hard
Nephi’s mother, Sariah, had been very worried about her sons and thought they were dead. When they returned, she bore her testimony to Nephi that she now KNEW that the Lord was watching over them and that what her husband, the prophet, was doing was the Lord’s will. Nephi’s arduous journey had also helped his mother gain a stronger testimony.
Before Nephi left, he told his father that he would do what the Lord had commanded him [to go and get the plates] “for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7). He believed that the Lord helps us keep his commandments. He believed it so much he was willing to make the strenuous journey back to Jerusalem. After he returned from getting the plates, he didn’t just believe, he KNEW the Lord helps us accomplish what He commands us to do. He had personal experience and could tell story after story about how the Lord had helped Him.
This personal experience is what conversion truly is. It is what we want for our children. It is one thing for our children to believe that God hears and answers prayers, but it is a life-changing moment when a child realizes that God answers HER prayers.
This experience gave Nephi a lot of confidence. He would be called to do even harder things than retrieving brass plates from a wicked man and he would need the spiritual knowledge and strength he had gained from this journey to help him in his future endeavors.
Nephi was later called to build a boat (something he had never done before). If I were him, I would have probably said, “No problem! If I can get the brass plates, I can do anything!”
It is my firm testimony that the Lord is always working behind the scenes FOR us. He is always doing what’s in our best interest. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be God. There are many times we are called to wait. What does the Lord expect us to do while we wait? Like Nephi, we should expend our best efforts, work hard, trust that the Lord knows better than we do, be patient, be kind, be optimistic & keep a positive attitude, show courage, don’t give up, and don’t rush to false conclusions about why there is a delay or make rash decisions. As we do these things, our future will be beautiful – whether or not the Lord ever reveals the reason something isn’t working out – because we are becoming beautiful. Our actions are turning us into Christlike individuals who can be happy in whatever circumstances we are thrown into because of our strong character and faith.
Hi! I met you in Lubbock when you were there helping Deborah. I read this several months ago and read it again today. I love your thoughts. Deborah calls you one of the most Christlike people she know. High praise from a sweet sister.