There are a great many things we can learn from “Nephi’s Vision” — the experience where the interpretation of Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life is given. Scrolling through this week’s Come, Follow Me lesson in the manual gives you a fairly thorough list of them. What struck me most this time, however, wasn’t any single points of doctrine from the vision, plain and precious though they are — it was the process by which they were obtained.
Nephi, whether he was intending to or not, has given us a master class in how to learn by, and from, the Spirit.
Let’s dive in.
“What Desirest Thou?”
“And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision… I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him….” (1 Nephi 10:17, emphasis added)
It may seem rather obvious, but the crucial first step in learning the mysteries of God is having a desire to know them. Jesus taught during his earthly ministry to “give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet.” Can we not also expect God the Father to live by this teaching Himself? A shrug and a nonchalant, “Sure,” won’t get you very far with Him; it will only serve to demonstrate you’re not ready for anything too deep.
Equally important is wanting to know such things for the right reasons — the apostle James warned the people of his day against asking for knowledge and power from on high for the wrong reasons when he taught, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”
How do we demonstrate such a desire and ensure our hearts are in the right place? “For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord…” (1 Nephi 11:1, emphasis added) This part is two-fold: first, you must place your trust in the Lord that He can make such things known unto you; second, you must examine what you’ve already learned for yourself. Nephi pondered these things in his heart; Oliver Cowdery was instructed to “study it out in [his] mind.” These are not contradictory instructions: we know from scripture both ancient and modern the Holy Ghost works upon both heart and mind to guide and teach us.
“And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?
And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw.” (1 Nephi 11:2-3)
And here we have our last piece of evidence that Nephi’s heart and mind were both in the right place: when the Spirit of the Lord asked him this question, Nephi had a ready answer.
“Yea, Thou Knowest”
“And the Spirit said unto me: Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?
And I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.” (1 Nephi 11: 4-5)
This next point may seem just as obvious as the necessity of a desire to learn, but is no less crucial: when you are under the tutelage of the Spirit of the Lord, you are there to be taught, and not to teach. This requires a certain level of humility — the sort of humility demonstrated in the above verses, where, when Nephi is asked a question to which he knows the Spirit already knows the answer, he responds not in snark or in huffiness, but in humility and frankness. His words here are not a rebuke to the Spirit for asking a dumb question, but in acknowledgement that there is literally nothing Nephi can tell the Spirit of the Lord that He does not already know.
Nephi’s humility and awareness of his place as the student in this vision are further evidenced by his willingness to follow instructions — no fewer than thirteen times over the course of this vision, he is commanded to, “Look!” And he looks. Perhaps this does not seem remarkable on its own — until, that is, we reflect upon another group of people who were told to look and live, and many would not.
Nephi’s own younger brother, Jacob, would go on to teach, “Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works.” But how many of us heed that admonition? How often do we find ourselves trying, in one way or another, to tell God He got such-and-such wrong? I caught myself doing just that only last week, and without even meaning to; what did not escape my notice, however, was the sort of spiritual slump my inadvertent attitude had plunged me into because the simple act of looking to something other than the Lord’s will and wisdom is the act of separating ourselves from Him. It is the act of forsaking the fountain of living waters for the broken cistern “that can hold no water,” as described by the Lord to Jeremiah.
Nephi’s humility is further illustrated when, in his vision, an angel asks him a question he does not fully understand, and he responds, “I know that he [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” There was no attempt to bluff his way through it so as to not seem ignorant; rather, he simply offered what understanding he did have with an acknowledgment of that which he did not. He seems to be keenly aware of the fact he is there not to teach, but to be taught — because, again, he is also keenly aware of the fact there is literally nothing he can teach in this setting. His purpose here is that of a pupil, which purpose he humbly embraces; in so doing, he ends up learning far more than he had originally hoped.
“Have Ye Inquired of the Lord?”
After having this vision wherein he sees and is taught many great and marvelous things, Nephi is brought back down to earth with a rather unpleasant bump:
“And it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had been carried away in the Spirit, and seen all these things, I returned to the tent of my father.
And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren, and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them.” (1 Nephi 15:1-2)
After taking a moment to gather himself, he asks his brethren “the cause of their disputations;” they responded they were having difficulty understanding some of the things their father had taught. Nephi’s responding question is concise and penetrating: “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” Their response was illustrative:
“And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.” (1 Nephi 15:9)
(Well, yeah. Not with that attitude, guys.)
His brothers may have desired to know. They may even have desired to know for the right reasons. But they determined the Lord either would not or could not impart such information to them, thereby shutting the door themselves on their own knowledge and progression. Nephi proceeds to give his brothers the rebuke they thoroughly deserve at that point, but then he does something more: he answers their questions. Having inquired of the Lord himself, he has the answers they seek, and he delivers the first in such a way they feel comfortable asking him more. Unlike in his vision, this is a setting in which he can teach; and because he retains the same humility he showed while in his vision, he can do so effectively.
“Armed with Righteousness and with the Power of God in Great Glory”
The manual’s title for this week’s lesson comes from 1 Nephi 14:14:
“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.“
Nephi sees in vision the latter days — our day — in which the Church has been restored, but its numbers are (relatively) few. Moreover, he sees the world at large fighting against the Lamb of God and His church. If it were a simple numbers game, we would be overrun, but the Lamb of God empowers those who have made a covenant with him, allowing them to withstand the evil all around them. Indeed, one who pays attention in the temple learns that those of us who make and keep temple covenants are literally clothed in power — power that we can call upon when needed. President Russell M. Nelson taught:
Every woman and every man who makes covenants with God and keeps those covenants, and who participates worthily in priesthood ordinances, has direct access to the power of God. Those who are endowed in the house of the Lord receive a gift of God’s priesthood power by virtue of their covenant, along with a gift of knowledge to know how to draw upon that power. …
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “This sounds wonderful, but how do I do it? How do I draw the Savior’s power into my life?”
You won’t find this process spelled out in any manual. The Holy Ghost will be your personal tutor as you seek to understand what the Lord would have you know and do. This process is neither quick nor easy, but it is spiritually invigorating. What could possibly be more exciting than to labor with the Spirit to understand God’s power—priesthood power?Russell M. Nelson, “Spiritual Treasures,” Oct. 2019 General Conference; emphasis added
If drawing the Savior’s power into our lives is necessary for us each to abide the day, as it seems to be; and if the Holy Ghost is to be our personal tutor in learning how to use that power, as our prophet taught; then it would follow that we ought to make every effort to learn how to be effectively tutored by the Holy Ghost so as not to be caught unprepared in our respective times of need. How fortunate, then, are we, that Nephi provided us with such an excellent tutorial? For, though our own experiences may not be as grand or as vivid as Nephi’s vision, they will be just as crucial for our own growth and protection — as well as that of our families.
- Come, Follow Me – For Individuals and Families: Book of Mormon 2020: January 20-26.
- “Spiritual Treasures” -President Russell M. Nelson, October 2019
- “I Know These Things of Myself” -Elder Craig C. Christensen, October 2014
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