24982_000_005Adapted from an address given at a Church Educational System religious educators conference at Brigham Young University on 17 August 1990.
Some years ago, my son Matthew came home from a seminary council meeting and said, “Dad, I want you to carve something.” He gave me the text. The plaque I carved says, “The Book of Mormon will change your life.” 1
My message to you is simple: What was written on that plaque is true. Did you notice the words of the quotation? It does not say the teaching or the study of the book will change your life. It says, “The Book of Mormon will change your life.” I would like to explain why I know that is true: The book itself is the most wonderful curriculum we have—not only from the point of view of the student, but from the point of view of the teacher.
There are four things I try to do when I teach the scriptures: read, prove, prepare, and testify. Let me address each of those one at a time.
Before writing this, I set aside a short period of time to read the Book of Mormon. It changed my life. Suddenly, I saw it as movie, in full color and on a wide screen. People became more real to me. I pictured the Savior and His visit almost as if I had been there. And I had a feeling for Nephi, who somehow knew about the change you and I want so much to make in our lives and in the lives of our students. If I was going to teach what the change is, I would use Mosiah 27:25–26:
“And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
“And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.”
Now, that is the change. It is not to be a little better. It is not to know a little more. It is to be born again, to be changed by the power of the Atonement.
You and I know that if a person will read the Book of Mormon, it will describe that change and how to have it. I beg of you to have faith that your students will want to read the Book of Mormon, that it will draw them as it will draw you.
I have worried about the barrier of Isaiah. In fact, I have pondered this thought: “Why did Nephi put the barrier there?”
There is a scripture that I used for years in the seminary and institute of religion program in writing curriculum and in designing courses. The verse says:
“And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Ne. 19:23).
I have thought perhaps what Nephi is trying to tell us is that he recognized the barrier of Isaiah. He knew that the book of Isaiah is full of imagery. Of all the scriptures, few have as many images; therefore, Isaiah can be very difficult. I believe what Nephi meant by “liken all scriptures unto us” was that they could be directly applied.
Many are more skilled than I am at putting scriptures in their historic context. There are wonderful techniques of understanding metaphor, simile, and allegory in the scriptures, and I hope you will learn as much about that as you can. But I hope you will learn one more thing. As you read Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, try to believe that Nephi knew Isaiah and he knew imagery. Nephi said to liken Isaiah directly unto you. So I tried it. I read Isaiah’s words again, assuming Nephi picked the parts of Isaiah that I, without worrying about the imagery, could take directly to my heart as if the Lord were speaking to me.
Now I will share with you my own experiment. It is not one you would teach, because for each person the Lord will speak directly to the heart with a different message. This is personal; it lets you look into my heart.
I began to read in 2 Nephi 12 [2 Ne. 12] and thought: “The Lord is speaking to me. What is it He wants to tell me directly?” Then I came to a verse in the Isaiah passages that jumped out as if it were already underlined: “And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day” (2 Ne. 12:11).
This is describing a day when the Savior will come, a day we all look for and want our students to prepare for. This scripture says that in that day, all of us who thought we were special and wonderful will seem smaller, and the Lord will be exalted. We will see better who He is, how much we love Him, and how humble we should be.
I kept reading in the Book of Mormon. I went past Isaiah, and I came to Ether 3:2. I saw something I had never seen before because I believed that Isaiah was talking to me directly, not in imagery.
The brother of Jared was dealing with the problem of getting light into a boat. As you will recall, when he sought the Lord’s help, the Lord asked what the brother of Jared was going to do about it. He had done the best he could. It was going to take something beyond his own ability. And so the brother of Jared said, “O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry …”
As I was reading this, I could see it in color. His experience almost seemed to be happening as I read about it.
“And do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee …” Suddenly the aforementioned words of Isaiah came back to me.
Then I continued reading: “Because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires” (Ether 3:2).
I was not thinking so much about light in a ship; I was thinking about the great change and how much I want it in my life and how much you want it in yours. I understood why Isaiah told me it would be helpful to foresee the day when the Lord would be exalted and to know how much I depend upon Him. We need Him, and the faith we have in Him makes us see Him as great and exalted and ourselves as small and dependent. As great as the brother of Jared was, he saw himself as we need to see ourselves if we are to have the Atonement work in our lives.
I will make you this promise about reading the Book of Mormon: You will be drawn to it as you understand that the Lord has embedded in it His message to you. Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni knew that, and those who put it together put in messages for you. I hope you have confidence that the book was written for your students. There are simple, direct messages for them that will tell them how to change. That is what the book is about. It is a testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Atonement and how it may work in their lives. You will have an experience this year feeling the change that comes by the power of the Atonement because of studying this book.
The second thing all of us teachers think about, pray about, and work at is “to prove.” You want to prove the gospel of Jesus Christ. You want your students to know it is true.
Some time ago my wife and I were talking about a lesson she had to give. We spoke about the fact that although the lesson had one subject and several different aims, the only way you could get at it was to teach the Atonement. Then we realized that if you are teaching anything that matters, you are teaching about the Atonement.
John, our then-18-year-old son, was sitting there. I was waxing eloquent by saying that really great teachers would always know they were teaching basically about the Atonement. John then taught me something about proving. He told us about a seminary teacher. He said: “You know, Dad, he knew something. He knew that you could bear testimony to young people. You could teach that the Atonement is something they need. You could teach them that they need to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to repent, and to be baptized. They need to feel the Holy Ghost. You can do all that, and they will hear you. But they may not believe you. They need to experience it before they will believe they need it.”
Then John described a teacher who had persuaded some students to prove something. The teacher’s challenge was to not go to inappropriate movies and to see whether the students could feel the effect in their lives. According to John’s report, they did. They could feel the companionship of the Holy Ghost returning.
John felt that all the sermons in the world trying to prove there was a Fall would not be nearly so effective as the person trying to do the right thing and then feeling the power of the Holy Ghost in his or her life. There is a difference we can feel between our fallen natures and our being lifted above them by the power of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the effects of the Atonement.
You want your students to see that their challenge is not to prove that the Book of Mormon is true but to prove to God that they—the students—are true. When they do this, they will know the book is true. And when they prove that they will do what the book says, God will tell them more:
“And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them.
“And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation” (3 Ne. 26:9–10).
As you prove the Book of Mormon to your students, you will realize you do not prove it through arguments. You do not even prove it through great examples or stories. Those will help, but your students will prove the Book of Mormon by saying, “I believe it is true; I will try it.” Once they have proved themselves to God, then the proof will come to them because they will see the spiritual fruit.
The Book of Mormon is about people proving their belief to God little by little. And then He confirms their belief and gives them more.
One of the most wonderful confirmations I know is found in the book of Ether. The Lord asked the brother of Jared if he saw more than the Lord’s finger.
“And he answered: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.
“And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak?
“And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.
“And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him” (Ether 3:10–13).
The brother of Jared did not come to that moment in a sudden jump but over a lifetime. He was given a little light, he had faith, and he exercised it. When the Lord saw that he believed, He gave him a little more light, until finally the Lord said essentially, “Will you believe anything I say?” And the Lord knew that the brother of Jared told the truth when he answered, “Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie” (Ether 3:12).
The Book of Mormon is written in such a way that students will feel it contains principles they should try. You need to be cautious that you do not set up applications or challenges that are not suited to that student, because God will be speaking to that individual. As you read the Book of Mormon, you and your students will know some things you should do. As you do them, you will have greater light given to you because you will have proved that you believe. I bear testimony that however much you have learned from the Book of Mormon before, you should read it again and prove it. Prove it by proving yourself. Do the things you feel impressed to do, and you will find things in it that you have never seen before.
The next step a teacher takes is to prepare. You remember how the sons of Mosiah prepared. In fact, we use the scriptures that describe their preparation, especially how they fasted and prayed, as examples of preparation (see Alma 17:3, 9). But in my rereading of the Book of Mormon, two verses from the book of Alma stood out:
“Therefore, this was the cause for which the sons of Mosiah had undertaken the work, that perhaps they might bring them unto repentance; that perhaps they might bring them to know of the plan of redemption.
“Therefore they separated themselves one from another, and went forth among them, every man alone, according to the word and power of God which was given unto him” (Alma 17:16–17; emphasis added).
The word alone makes me think of you going into your classroom. You go alone. They went alone, among a ferocious people, with the intent to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. (There will be days when your students may seem nearly as ferocious.) The sons of Mosiah went not simply to get a few converts. They were to help people change their lives by the power of the Atonement.
Ammon had prepared by fasting, praying, and studying the scriptures and gaining the spiritual endowment that we all need to teach. But I am struck by the way he taught. Remember, King Lamoni invited him to receive things, to have things done for him, but instead he chose to serve the people he intended to teach: “But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni” (Alma 17:25).
Underline that and remember it all your life if you want to know something about preparation. Ammon prepared himself, but he did more. He prepared his student to be taught the doctrines of salvation. How did he do it?
“And it came to pass that he was set among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni, according to the custom of the Lamanites” (Alma 17:25).
Now, remember that he not only protected the servants and the animals at the waters of Sebus, but he drove off the enemy. When the other servants brought the evidence of what Ammon had done, King Lamoni said, “Where is he?” They said, “Oh, he is in the stables. He is doing every little thing to serve you” (see Alma 18:8–9).
Isn’t that odd? He was called to teach the doctrines of salvation, but he was in the stables. Don’t you think he should have been praying and fasting and polishing his teaching plan? No, he was in the stables.
King Lamoni had been brought up with a belief that there was a God but that whatever the king did was right. He had been specifically taught false doctrine that might have made him impervious to feelings of guilt. Do you remember that when he heard where Ammon was, a feeling of guilt, of fear that he had done wrong in the killing of the servants, came over him (see Alma 18:5)? Remember the effect in Alma chapter 18:
“And they answered the king, and said: Whether he be the Great Spirit or a man, we know not; but this much we do know, that he cannot be slain by the enemies of the king; neither can they scatter the king’s flocks when he is with us, because of his expertness and great strength; therefore, we know that he is a friend to the king. And now, O king, we do not believe that a man has such great power, for we know he cannot be slain.
“And now, when the king heard these words, he said unto them: Now I know that it is the Great Spirit; and he has come down at this time to preserve your lives, that I might not slay you as I did your brethren” (Alma 18:3–4).
I have always focused before on how mixed up Lamoni was in his doctrine, without seeing the miracle. The miracle was that a spiritual need was created in a man, that he might be taught the gospel of Jesus Christ. His heart was broken. He felt guilt. And it came from the temporal things that Ammon had done.
I bear you my testimony that you can prepare the hearts of your students. Serve them; find little things to do for them. Pay the price of service, and God will honor it. I will make you that promise. Do not worry if your students are not lovable at times. Just do something for them, and they will seem a little more lovable to you. It will be a gift from God.
I bear my testimony that the Holy Ghost will prepare your students, as He prepared King Lamoni for Ammon. Never, never underestimate the spiritual value of doing temporal things well for those whom you serve.
I pray that all of you might prepare through fasting and prayer and testimony. I hope you will prepare the hearts of your students. Be their servants, and you will love them. And they will feel your love. And more important, they will feel God’s love. The Book of Mormon will help you in that.
You need to testify. I can promise you a wonderful year because the Book of Mormon is full of testimony. You cannot teach the Book of Mormon without having as your companions the great testifiers, including the Savior Himself.
Nephi wrote: “And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good” (2 Ne. 33:10).
God loves you and wants you to have power as you teach the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ. I bear testimony that you will be given that power.
Here is the last testimony in the Book of Mormon. I think it was put at the end for a purpose: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
“And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot” (Moro. 10:32–33).
I pray that you may know you are invited by God’s servants to invite His children to come unto Christ. If you forget yourself, remember Him, and serve your students, God will bless you and them, that many, if not all, will come unto Christ and feel that mighty change in their lives.
Ezra Taft Benson, “To the ‘Youth of the Noble Birthright,’” Ensign, May 1986, 43.