I’m going to make something up that is NOT in the dictionary, but it will make my point. The title of this lesson begins with the phrase “hearken to the truth.” I would like to take that first word apart. The first half of the word is “to hear.” The second half of the word is the Scottish word “ken” which means “to know.” When I think of the word hearken I think it means more than to listen. I believe it implies that we need to pay close attention to what we are supposed to be hearkening to and come to know that principle well. So to hearken to the truth would mean to seek out the truth and come to intimately understand it. That is my take on the word. The dictionary only says that to hearken is to listen, but the scriptures feel to me like they mean more than just to listen.
In an effort to hearken to the truth using my own definition of the word, I have divided the lesson into four sections. In each section think about how the manner in which we approach something makes all the meaningful difference in the world.
Additional Reading: Alma 37:38–46.
Liahona equals conscience
Later on in the story Alma names the ball or director Lehi found outside his tent on the ground. In Alma 37:38 he describes it like this.
38 And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it.
This miraculous compass was designed by the Lord to lead Lehi’s family through the wilderness. The area they had to cross to get to the land they called Bountiful was very dangerous. It was filled with bandits and hostiles, and if you didn’t know how to find water and the more fertile parts of the land, death would have been a welcome relief from the sufferings you would have endured in that heat and blowing sand.
As amazing as this little contraption, the Liahona, was, it’s principles of operation were surprisingly simple. If you believed the ball could do what God said it would do then it actually did exactly that, it worked. This was a machine that was powered by belief. If you did as the instructions said then you received more instructions. If you went the way the spindles pointed, they continued to point the right direction. Only when the instructions were not believed or the family rebelled in some way would the spindles stop working. President Spencer W. Kimball said:
“The Lord gave to … every person, a conscience which tells him everytime he starts to go on the wrong path. He is always told if he is listening; but people can, of course, become so used to hearing the messages that they ignore them until finally they do not register anymore.
“You must realize that you have something like the compass, like the Liahona, in your own system. Every child is given it. … If he ignores the Liahona that he has in his own makeup, he eventually may not have it whispering to him. … Our ship will not get on the wrong course … if we listen to the dictates of our own Liahona, which we call the conscience” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1976, 117; or Ensign, Nov. 1976, 79).
The ball they called Liahona is like a physical representation of the conscience our Father in Heaven has given to each and every one of us. It also operates on the same principle of belief. As long as we are willing to follow the impressions and feelings our conscience provides us we will be led to do what is right and we will be kept safe from harm. It is only when we deliberately ignore those feelings and impressions and choose to not believe that we put ourselves in danger.
Having a hard heart is a choice
The Old Testament has a mistaken translation error that happens a lot. We often hear about how the ‘Lord hardened’ so and so’s heart. If you go back and read the account of Moses dealing with Pharaoh it appears all over the place. Joseph Smith in his translation of the Bible fixed this mistake and says instead that ‘Pharaoh hardened his heart.’
A hard heart is an unbelieving heart. It is a disposition to resist the enticements and invitations of God to bless our lives with vital instructions. Those who refuse to be led by the word of God are said to be hard of heart and stiff of neck (stiff-neckedness). Those who willingly accept the Lord’s counsel and wisdom are said to have soft hearts.
The important factor here is that whether we have soft hearts and are willing to be led by the Lord, or hard hearts and are not willing to follow the Lord, is all up to us. We choose. Each time we are invited to follow the prophet, or pray, or serve, or do what your Bishop or other Church leader asks of you, you have to choose whether you will keep your heart soft or whether you will harden your heart and choose for yourself to do something else.
This pattern harks back to the word hearken. The more we ignore our conscience and the whisperings of the Spirit that enlighten our minds, the more unbelieving we become – the more hard-hearted we become. It is difficult to go from being unbelieving to believing because being unbelieving breeds a pattern of stubbornness in our souls. Those who choose to believe and obey become more and more sensitive to spiritual things and more in tune with the tender mercies of God.
The point is that whether we have a hard heart or a soft heart is up to us. We choose it each time we react to the instructions we receive from the Spirit, the scriptures, our conscience, or our Church leaders. We do it to ourselves.
The difference between I’ll try and I will
When we are given assignments from our leaders and from the Lord that seem hard or even impossible to us, we often forget who we are dealing with and say to ourselves, “I’ll try.” This half-hearted emotional and spiritual assertion will get us into trouble more often than not. Let’s look at how Nephi was able to always say instead, “I will!”
The assertion that “I will” almost seems arrogant in a way. But let’s look at 1 Nephi 3:7 where Nephi has been commanded by the Lord, through his servant the prophet (Nephi’s father) to return to Jerusalem to get the plates of brass from Laban.
7 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, 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.
Through past experience, Nephi had learned from the Lord that He never required anything of his children that they could not do. Nephi had a very simple belief. What was true was true, and nothing could change that fact. He had learned that if the Lord said “Do this” then it would be made possible to do it, even if miracles were required to finish the job. Why? Because God does not set us up to fail. It is not in his character.
Does that make every assignment easy? No, of course not. Some of our assignments require extreme duress and trials to get to the success part. But in every case we grow and develop as His children to be more like Him. Because of Nephi’s simple faith, if the Lord said jump, he said, “How high and in which direction?” He chose to believe in the Lord’s consistency. He chose to believe that God never sets us up to fail. Every commandment is achievable.
This section will answer the title of the previous section. Nephi was able to say “I will” all the time because he consistently chose to believe in the Lord. He understood that trials and hardships were part of the package we signed on for in mortality. As they struggled through the wilderness living off raw meat and delivering children on the sands of the desert, Nephi never stopped trusting that what the Lord promised would come to pass. It was his simple faith that saw him through all his trials.
I realize that sometimes Nephi comes across as a Pollyanna of sorts, always seeing only the good, but this isn’t true. In 1 Nephi 18:14 – 16 when Nephi’s brothers unmercifully tied him up on the ship and left him for four days, look at his reaction to being released just before they were to be swallowed up in the sea.
14 And on the fourth day, which we had been driven back, the tempest began to be exceedingly sore.
15 And it came to pass that we were about to be swallowed up in the depths of the sea. And after we had been driven back upon the waters for the space of four days, my brethren began to see that the judgments of God were upon them, and that they must perish save that they should repent of their iniquities; wherefore, they came unto me, and loosed the bands which were upon my wrists, and behold they had swollen exceedingly; and also mine ankles were much swollen, and great was the soreness thereof.
16 Nevertheless, I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the day long; and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions.
A Pollyanna is someone who is often ignorant of the true nature of those around them and choose to believe people really don’t mean to be awful to each other. But Nephi knew the disposition of his brothers. They had tried to kill him twice already, once in the wilderness, and once while building the ship. He was well aware of their intentions and their hatred. Yet he focused on his belief that the Lord would be faithful to him and not fail him, even if it was in death. No matter how bad it got, he endured it like a good soldier and trusted that the Lord was mindful of him and his father, God’s prophet. It is Nephi’s consistency in his faithfulness that we are left to admire, for it served him well and was turned into a blessing on him and his posterity.
The chapters in this week’s lesson are full of object lessons and spiritual types. From the Liahona that acted like a physical conscience, to the lesson on what causes our hearts to be hardened or softened, to Nephi’s wonderful example of one who is consistent and trusting in the Lord, we are left with powerful examples of obedience and a pattern we can follow to be better today than we were yesterday.
When Nephi hearkened to the truth he did more than just listen. Nephi sought to live every principle of truth to which he was introduced. He sought for the Lord’s way of doing things. He focused on the Lord’s faithfulness and refused to murmur in the face of trials, trusting that his experiences would be for his own good.
Sometimes behaving like Laman and Lemuel, disbelieving and murmuring all along the way, seems like the easy way out. Being faithful like Nephi seems hard. But look at the long-term picture. Who was happiest in the end, Laman and Lemuel or Nephi? In the end, it was Nephi who left this life rejoicing in the blessings of the Lord. His simple faith saw him through and supported him in all his days. That same simple faith and determination to be obedient can see us through our days as well.