Motivation has always been a challenge for human beings. Teachers wonder how to motivate students to study; parents try to convince their children to do household chores; Church leaders search for ways to inspire members to perform their duties; we all wonder how we can motivate ourselves to do what we know we should.
One day, while thumbing through my files, I found a fundamental key to motivation in a quote by President David O. McKay. He said, “What you sincerely in your heart think of Christ will determine what you are, will largely determine what your acts will be.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1951, p. 93.)
In other words, what people do or don’t do in a situation will depend on the understanding they have of the reality and role of Christ and upon the degree of loyalty and love they have for him.
With that idea in mind, I started to read the Book of Mormon again from the beginning and found that there are many places in the Book of Mormon where this is a significant theme. Often people who were faced with the same situations reacted very differently. And what made the difference in their actions was what they felt in their hearts about the Lord Jesus Christ.
For example, in the beginning of the Book of Mormon, Nephi speaks of his mother and father, referring to them as “goodly parents.” (1 Ne. 1:1.) But the feelings of his brothers, Laman and Lemuel, were quite different. “Behold they did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man.” They felt his visions were merely “the foolish imaginations of his heart.” (1 Ne. 2:11.) Same man, same family.
What made the difference between how Nephi saw his father and how Laman and Lemuel did? Nephi “had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God” (1 Ne. 1:1) and saw the Lord’s inspiration in the actions of his father. On the other hand, Laman and Lemuel murmured against their father “because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.” (1 Ne. 2:12; italics added.) In other words, what they thought of God determined to a large extent what they did and the kind of people they were.
The familiar story of Lehi’s sons returning to Jerusalem to obtain the brass plates from Laban further illustrates this difference between Nephi and his brothers.
When Lehi directed Nephi to go back to Jerusalem, “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.” (1 Ne. 3:7.)
Although it was his father who asked him to go to Jerusalem (1 Ne. 3:6), Nephi knew the ultimate source of the commandment. And his faith was that the Lord always prepares a way for the fulfillment of his commandments.
Laman and Lemuel, however, had a different perspective. Lehi said to Nephi: “Behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord.” (1 Ne. 3:5.)
The feelings of Laman and Lemuel about who commanded them to go made a tremendous difference; their spirit of reluctance proved to be a constant hindrance to the success of the mission.
President Spencer W. Kimball said this about Nephi’s conduct during the mission to Jerusalem: “Remember how Nephi was confronted with an impossible situation and could not get the plates. His brothers could not. They were unable to buy them. They could not bribe them out of the hands of Laban. They could not force their way in, and their lives were hanging on a thread. In spite of all of that, here comes one unarmed boy who walks into a city through a wall that could not be penetrated, into gates that could not be opened, into a garden that was impenetrable, into a vault that was locked, among soldiers who could not be bypassed, and he came out with his arms full of records to keep his posterity and others from perishing in unbelief. He did what was humanly impossible. But nothing is impossible to the Lord. Anytime we have him on our side, when he has called us and given us a commandment, then, if our energy and our efforts and our planning and our prayers are equal to the size of the calling, the work, of course, will be successfully completed.” (Relief Society Magazine, Apr. 1959, pp. 217–18.)
This, of course, is a principle we can all apply in our own lives. Whom do we believe we serve in our duties and assignments in the Church—the bishop or stake president, or the Lord? Does it make a difference? What we think of Christ will ultimately become either a stepping-stone to success in our callings or a stumbling block leading to failure and disappointment.
There are many more examples in the life of Nephi. In 1 Nephi 9, for example, we find that Nephi was asked to keep a second set of records. That’s a bit like being asked to keep a second journal. I wonder how most of us would respond if our bishop asked us next Sunday to begin to keep a second journal. (Of course, our response would partly depend upon whether we’re keeping the first one!)
What reason did the Lord give Nephi for keeping that second set of records? He wasn’t given any reason at all: “The Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.” (1 Ne. 9:5.) Mormon said much the same thing later when he attached that second set of records to the plates containing his abridgment (see W of M 1:7); he didn’t know why he was supposed to do it either. So why did Nephi do what he was asked to do? He did it because he knew the Lord and trusted in him.
“The Lord knoweth all things from the beginning,” he said. “Wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words.” (1 Ne. 9:6.)
That is what Nephi thought of the Savior; that was his faith. The first principle of the gospel is “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” (A of F 1:4.) Not just faith, but faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is a principle in many things, but faith in the Savior is a crucial principle of the gospel.
Because of what Nephi thought of Christ, he prepared that second set of records. Twenty-four centuries later, when 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript were lost, preventing the use of the material from the first set of records, the second set was there to fill the void. The Lord had prepared a way for the accomplishment of his work, as Nephi declared he always would.
In 1 Nephi 17:20–21 we find Laman and Lemuel murmuring once again. “Thou art like unto our father,” they said to Nephi, “led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart; yea, he hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions.
“Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy.” [1 Ne. 17:20–21]
That is their account of the journey through the wilderness. But in the same chapter we have Nephi’s description:
“We did again take our journey in the wilderness. … And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness.
“And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings.” (1 Ne. 17:1–2.)
Does that even sound like the same trip? Isn’t it interesting that Laman and Lemuel and Nephi went on the same journey, walked down the same trails, ate the same food, experienced the same temperatures, and slept in the same wilderness; yet two of them “suffered afflictions,” and the third said that the Lord had greatly blessed them.
When faced with particular difficulties in life, we often complain in our hearts and ask the question “Why? Why would the Lord do this to me?” It is important for us to remember that the Lord may not always lighten our load. But if we trust in him as Nephi did, he can increase our capacity to carry. And that is the difference between Nephi and Laman and Lemuel what they individually thought of the Lord became their respective stepping-stones or stumbling blocks throughout life’s journey.
In 2 Nephi 5:3 we again find this difference between Lehi’s sons highlighted. Laman and Lemuel, being angry with Nephi, “did murmur against [him], saying: Our younger brother thinks to rule over us; and we have had much trial because of him. … Behold, we will not have him to be our ruler; for it belongs unto us, who are the elder brethren, to rule over this people.” [2 Ne. 5:3]
Earlier, however, the Lord had said, speaking to Nephi: “Inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.” (1 Ne. 2:22.) In fact, an angel had even communicated this fact to Laman and Lemuel: “As they smote [Nephi] with a rod, behold, an angel of the Lord came and stood before them, and he spake unto them, saying: Why do you smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you?” (1 Ne. 3:29.)
Now, who chose Nephi to be a ruler? The Lord. But, because Laman and Lemuel didn’t truly accept the Lord, they couldn’t accept Nephi as the Lord’s appointed servant.
This incident reminds me of a recent visit I made to a ward where I didn’t know anyone. As I sat in sacrament meeting, I looked at the faces of the brethren who sat on the stand, trying to guess which was the bishop and which were his counselors. Afterward I was introduced to the bishop. What a shock! He was the last one on the stand I would have guessed to be the bishop. He had such a boyish face.
I spoke to some of the people in the ward between the meetings. One of the older brethren in that ward had an interesting comment about the bishop: “He’s just too young.” But in the foyer after a later meeting, I asked some others what kind of influence their bishop was having in the ward. One said, “He’s a spiritual giant. He’s one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.”
Do you think a young man with a boyish face could be called of God and successfully preside over a ward? What determines how we feel about our Church leaders? Doesn’t it really depend upon what we think of the Lord?
Chapter 3 of 2 Nephi prophesies of the coming of a great prophet in our day, Joseph Smith. [2 Ne. 3] For many, the Prophet Joseph Smith became the means by which they came to know God. But for others Joseph Smith has been a stumbling block. The Savior said this about the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“I did call upon [him] by mine angels, my ministering servants, and by mine own voice out of the heavens, to bring forth my work;
“Which foundation he did lay, and was faithful; and I took him to myself.” (D&C 136:37–38.)
What we think of the Lord determines whether the Prophet Joseph’s mission is a stepping-stone or a stumbling block to us personally. Another example of this principle is found in Mosiah 26:1–4, which describes the Nephites some years after the death of King Benjamin, during whose reign they had taken upon them the name of Christ:
“Now it came to pass that there were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of King Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake unto his people; and they did not believe the tradition of their fathers.
“They did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe concerning the coming of Christ.
“And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.
“And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, … for they would not call upon the Lord their God.”
When we get to verse 4 we read about people who “would not.” There are a lot of “will nots” in the world. But we need to be very careful when we see “will not” behavior, in ourselves or in other people. We should take care not to view “will not” behavior as a cause, but rather as a symptom. For example, home teachers to a non tithe-paying family may spend much of their time talking about tithing—the law, the benefits, the blessings, the challenge, the testimony—instead of finding the real cause of their “will not” behavior. We need to ask, “Why will they not?”
Verse 3 of Mosiah 26 gives us the key. The younger Nephites would not do what they should because “they could not understand the word of God.” And the reason they could not understand was “because of their unbelief.” In verses 1 and 2, we learn that “they did not believe the tradition of their fathers. … Neither did they believe concerning … Christ.” [Mosiah 26:1–3]
The progression of thought in these verses is impressive. The young Nephites would not perform because they could not understand; and they could not understand because they did not believe in Christ. In other words, the real cause of their failure to perform was their lack of faith in Christ.
Whatever the problem may be in a person’s life—failure to pay tithing, breaking the Word of Wisdom, casual church attendance—real issue is faith in Jesus Christ. If we can help people obtain the gift of faith in Christ, good works will follow. The end purpose of any law of God is to bring us to Christ. And how well will the law work? It depends on what we think of the Author of the law.
Consider Mosiah 28. We read in verse 3 that the sons of Mosiah, Alma, and others wanted to be part of a great mission to the Lamanites. [Mosiah 28:3] “They were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.”
How different they had been just a chapter earlier—rebelling against God and trying to destroy the Church. What made the difference in their behavior? The answer lies in what they had come to think of the Savior, his atonement, and his mercy.
Understanding and accepting the Savior can work miracles in our lives. Unpleasant circumstances can bring us closer to God if we let them. Again the Book of Mormon illustrates. In one of the wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites, “many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility.” (Alma 62:41; italics added.)
These people all had basically the same experience. The war was the same length for all people; yet out of the same experience some were hardened and some were softened. What made the difference? It was what they thought of God and his Son.
In Matthew 22:42, the Savior asked the Pharisees, “What think ye of Christ?” [Matt. 22:42] And their answer revealed why they finally rejected him. The answer to that question is critical, for the answer will determine our ultimate destiny.