One summer when I was a teenager I worked on an oyster boat off the coast of Long Island in New York to earn funds for college. The other members of the crew were seasoned oystermen, hardened by the harsh environment in which they spent much of their lives battling the icy ocean and raw wind to secure their catch.
To them, I must have been an enigma, easier to distrust than to understand. At first, I was considered a company spy, then a crazy kid who didn’t know how to “live it up” when we were on shore.
As I became more proficient in fulfilling my duties and attempted to establish friendships, they offered to show me how to become “a real man” by joining them on their all-night indulgences on the town. I thanked them, but declined, and the tension grew more intense.
The summer weather was beautiful and the ocean magnificent. We were engaged in relatively simple tasks, such as transferring small oysters to a more distant portion of the Sound where the nutrients accelerated their growth and improved their flavor.
Except when a dredge full of oysters was dumped onto the deck signaling a flurry of intense activity, there was much time for contemplation. While my deckmates dozed by their shovels, I followed the practice of reading and pondering the Book of Mormon. I cannot adequately express the powerful awakening within me that came from those weeks of studying the Book of Mormon under singularly unusual circumstances.
We slept in envelope-type bunks sandwiched into the restricted space between the ship’s diesel engine and hull. One night at dockside I retired early since it appeared that some of the crew planned to party alongside our boat. I was suddenly shaken into consciousness by the powerful hand of a deckmate, Toddy, a giant of a man. He was brandishing a hammer in my face, and his breath reeked of alcohol. Stunned, I realized that there was no way I could escape him, and I thought the end had come. Then I began to hear what he was shouting. “Scotty, get your fins and mask. There’s a man overboard, and you are the only one who can save him.” Fortunately, we acted quickly enough to avoid a tragedy.
That night I learned a lesson I have never forgotten. Publicly the crew members ridiculed me, but privately they respected me for my standards. The confidence that came from that knowledge let me quietly help three of them with some of the serious personal challenges they faced.
That summer’s experience with the Book of Mormon was the beginning of what has proven to be a recurring theme in my life, one that has given it dimension, purpose, power, and joy. I discovered then, and have confirmed time and again at crucial periods of my life, that as I read, ponder, and apply the principles contained in the Book of Mormon, not only am I strengthened with an appreciation for the powerful servants of the Lord that it depicts, but a conduit of communication is opened to me personally that crystalizes truth in my own heart and mind. Those experiences provide a basis for inspirational guidance that I urgently need as a husband, father, and servant of the Lord.
I would like to share some other occasions when the Book of Mormon has played a vital role in my life. I do so with the heartfelt desire that you may be led to similar blessings of inspiration and direction, if you have not done so already.
After I received my mission call, but before I entered the mission field, I had the opportunity to finish some postgraduate work at the University of Delaware. Each day I was immersed in advanced courses in thermal dynamics, hydraulics, and gas turbine design, but each night and on the weekends I would read and ponder the passages of the Book of Mormon and relate them to my forthcoming missionary assignment. Although there have been many intervening years since then, I vividly recall those sacred experiences. I became personally involved in the recorded lives of Nephi, Jacob, Enos, and other prophets as they struggled with the responsibility of sharing with others the marvels of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I empathized with the terrific challenges placed before Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni as they set forth on their missionary endeavors. The testimony of Abinadi burned within my heart. The conversion of Alma, and its effect on generations of sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven, taught me that no missionary can determine the lasting effects of his or her labors.
As I read and contemplated the pages of that marvelous book, impressions came to me of areas in my own life that needed strengthening if I were to become an effective missionary. Night after night, I knelt and expressed gratitude to the Lord for the inspiring examples of his servants recorded in the Book of Mormon, and for the growing testimony within my heart of the divine call of Joseph Smith and the marvel of the restoration of the gospel.
As a missionary, I learned the essential principles of the gospel from the Book of Mormon. At that time, we had no formal lesson plans. The Book of Mormon became my missionary handbook, study guide, and resource in teaching investigators. I proved to myself the literal reality of the declaration of Joseph Smith: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” (History of the Church, 4:461.)
As a mission president, the one source that I could always count on for inspiration for zone meetings was the Book of Mormon. In it I found words of the prophets that could express far better than I the deep feelings of love and appreciation that welled up in my heart for the choice elders and sisters that served with us. Alma’s words expressed eloquently my personal feelings:
“O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God … and cry repentance unto every people. …
“But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.” (Alma 29:1, 3.)
Likewise, his revealing explanation of the growth of his own testimony communicated volumes of meaning when he declared:
“Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?
“Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit.” (Alma 5:45–46.)
I recall being uplifted during a long automobile ride with a fine missionary as we quoted from memory favorite passages of scripture. He helped me memorize one that has had great meaning in my life:
“If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27.)
Later, I wrote this note in my copy of the Book of Mormon: “An assistant, Andrew W. Peterson, pointed out this scripture. He is a choice spirit.” I was not surprised some years later when he was called to be a mission president.
Throughout that copy of the Book of Mormon there are special symbols and dates which identify specific scriptures that record occasions on which I had sincerely sought direction from the Lord in my life. I was lead to those specific scriptures, and because of them, received much needed guidance and counsel. For example: “And now the spirit of Alma was again troubled; and he went and inquired of the Lord what he should do concerning this matter, for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God.” (Mosiah 26:13.) Beside this scripture the note reads, “How often I have felt this way as a mission president, not to do what I wanted, but as the Lord wanted.” May it ever be so.
On one occasion, a missionary came to my office with a problem that troubled him greatly. As he spoke, I began to formulate in my mind specific comments to help him resolve his challenge. When he concluded, I said, “I know just how to help you.” He looked eagerly toward me, and suddenly my mind went blank. I could not remember anything I had prepared to tell him.
In anxiety, I began to thumb through the Book of Mormon I held in my hand until my attention was drawn to a very significant scripture, which I read to him. This occurred three times. Each scripture applied perfectly to his situation. Then, as though a curtain were raised in my mind, I recalled the advice I had planned to give him. Now it had far greater meaning, for it was based on a foundation of valuable scripture. As I concluded, he said, “I know that the counsel that you have given me has been inspired because you have repeated the same three scriptures that were given me when I was set apart as a missionary.”
This treasured experience is one of many that demonstrate how the Lord respects words recorded by his servants in scripture, and how he expects us to use them often to find the kernels of truth we need to resolve difficulties in our own lives.
Elder Spencer W. Kimball supervised our area when I was mission president. I observed how well he understood and used the Book of Mormon in his inspiring messages to members and missionaries alike. Especially meaningful was his use of the scriptures referring to the Lamanites, whom I deeply love.
Elder Kimball had a remarkable way of teaching truth. At a missionary zone meeting on one occasion, he said, “Richard, you used a scripture from the Book of Mormon today that I had never thought of using in that way.” That was the careful preparation for a very significant lesson he wanted me to learn. He then added, “And to think that I have read that book more than seventy-six times.” He didn’t have to point out specifically that I knew very little about the scriptures, and that I needed to spend a lifetime in pondering and applying them. That single comment has motivated me to a lifelong goal of increased understanding of the sacred word of God.
During the dedication of the Mexico City Temple, President Gordon B. Hinckley repeatedly emphasized that a new era was opening in Church growth and development in Mexico and Central America. Frequently during those sacred services I was impressed that the Mexican Saints would have to put the Book of Mormon to greater use to fulfill such increased responsibility.
I was asked to speak during one of the dedicatory sessions. The strong impression of the spirit helped me to say the following:
“Those who labored to prepare the Book of Mormon are the sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven who have served, suffered, and given greatly to form the foundation upon which we are building the Church today. In fulfilling prophecy, they would say to you today that they are ending hundreds of years of preparation. This is the opening of a new era, the beginning of a tremendously important phase of the work of the Lord. They have done their part. They have prepared a people. You represent that people. In a very real sense, the responsibility for the work here has been transferred to the leaders and members of Mexico and Central America who live today. But these former leaders would tell you that you are not completely prepared to accept that baton of responsibility.
“I feel in my heart a pleading on behalf of many former prophets that each of you learn to appreciate the records that they have prepared and protected. When they see you walk from place to place with a Book of Mormon in your hands, or see it kept in your homes, and they do not observe you open it to read, ponder, and apply its contents, they are saddened. It is their history, prepared by divine assignment for your blessing and enlightenment. I want to tell you Regional Representatives, stake presidents, and other leaders present, there still remain false traditions in your lives and the lives of those that you supervise. I do not say this to criticize, but with a spirit of profound love and appreciation.
“By studying pages of the Book of Mormon, you will learn the messages that have been divinely placed there for you and your families, and for those you supervise. You will know how to correct the influences of false traditions. There are problems and challenges but they were all seen beforehand by the Lord. He has given you the way to correct these deficiencies, but they are of little value if they remain locked in a closed book. It is not sufficient that we appreciate it nor that we testify that the Book of Mormon is of God. We must know its truths and make them a part of our lives.”
As a General Authority, I have met with missionaries in various parts of the world. I have come to feel that many missionaries could benefit greatly from more devoted study of the Book of Mormon and more conscientious application of its principles in their lives. It is my personal witness that the Book of Mormon is the greatest missionary literature in the Church, and that we can significantly increase convert baptisms by more effective use of the Book of Mormon in our proselyting activities.
Repeatedly, I have used these words of President Ezra Taft Benson to help missionaries assist their investigators to overcome challenges that prevent their baptism:
“We are to use the Book of Mormon in handling objections to the Church. Here, then, is a procedure to handle most objections through the use of the Book of Mormon:
“First, understand the objection.
“Second, give the answer from revelation.
“Third, show how the correctness of the answer really depends on whether or not we have modern revelation through modern prophets.
“Fourth, explain that whether or not we have modern prophets and revelation really depends on whether the Book of Mormon is true.
“Therefore, the only problem the objector has to resolve for himself is whether the Book of Mormon is true. For if the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was his prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, and it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation.” (Ensign, May 1975, p. 65.)
My missionary copy of the Book of Mormon has been retired. The new editions of scriptures recently published by the Church are far richer in teaching aids. They now form the basis of my gospel study. Recently, however, I have been painstakingly transferring notes and observations from my treasured missionary copy. This brought back a flood of memories and a rekindling of experiences that are sacred. I found stains from a candle used to teach humble Lamanites in Quiriza, Bolivia, of the love the Lord has for them personally. I have encountered tear stains on some pages where the outpouring of the Spirit caused my eyes to overflow with gratitude. I love the Book of Mormon and am grateful to a merciful God who has inspired holy men throughout the centuries to prepare its magnificent teachings for our encouragement in this crucial period of history.
The Book of Mormon holds answers for the problems we face in everyday life. Consider these examples:
—If you have made a serious mistake in your life and Satan would have you believe that your opportunity for true joy and happiness is past, study the lives of Alma the younger and his companions, the sons of Mosiah. (See Mosiah 27; Alma 5:3–62.) When the process of repentance is complete, you can rejoice with a new heart and unlimited opportunity for happiness as did Ammon, one of the sons of Mosiah:
“Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?
“Behold, we went forth even in wrath, with mighty threatenings to destroy his church.
“Oh then, why did he not consign us to an awful destruction, yea, why did he not let the sword of his justice fall upon us, and doom us to eternal despair?
“Oh, my soul, almost as it were, fleeth at the thought. Behold, he did not exercise his justice upon us, but in his great mercy hath brought us over that everlasting gulf of death and misery, even to the salvation of our souls.
“And now behold, my brethren, what natural man is there that knoweth these things? I say unto you, there is none that knoweth these things, save it be the penitent.” (Alma 26:17–21.)
—When you are tempted to complain about the challenges and problems you face or the things you must suffer, please remember Moroni, who spent more than twenty years hiding from Lamanite armies that sought to take his life. Yet he did not complain. What he engraved on the plates was inspired counsel for us today:
“Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you.” (Moro. 7:26.)
“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. …
“But charity is the pure love of Christ.” (Moro. 7:45–47.)
—If in your personal life there is a temptation to take shortcuts and rationalize, taking steps that are not worthy, remember Kishkumen and the bands that he formed, or Gadianton and his followers, who sold themselves to Satan and in their greed and wickedness destroyed the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations. (See Hel. 6:17–40; Ether 8:18–22.)
—If you have a tendency to be overbearing in your calling and responsibility, remember King Benjamin, who taught us how to preside with humility in the work of the Lord. (See Mosiah 2.)
—If you desire to have the Holy Ghost with you, remember the words of Ammon, who gave us a formula for obtaining the Spirit: “Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God.” (Alma 26:22.)
—If you long for a close friend, remember the Savior whose love, tenderness, and compassion surpass all ability to express:
“The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father;
“And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father. …
“And he said unto them: Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full.
“And when he had said these words, he wept, … and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.
“And when he had done this he wept again.” (3 Ne. 17:16–17, 20–22.)
The prophets have borne solemn witness of our responsibility to read the Book of Mormon. For example, Nephi testified: “Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” (2 Ne. 32:3.) Nearly every page of the Book of Mormon solemnly testifies that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, our Redeemer and Savior. How fitting that its title page now carries the subtitle “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”
In a motivating message entitled “The Book of Mormon Is the Word of God” (Ensign, May 1975, p. 65), which I encourage you to read, President Ezra Taft Benson declared: “Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life.”
With characteristic candor, President Marion G. Romney counseled, “If we would avoid adopting the evils of the world, we must pursue a course which will daily feed our minds with … the things of the Spirit. I know of no better way to do this than by daily reading the Book of Mormon.” (Ensign, May 1980, p. 66.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “No member of this Church can stand approved in the presence of God who has not seriously and carefully read the Book of Mormon.” (In Conference Report, October 1961, p. 18.) Each of us should take to heart that sobering testimony.
The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve consistently reiterate the vital importance of the Book of Mormon. Some recent declarations of this theme are referenced at the end of this article.
It is not sufficient that the Book of Mormon be found in our homes; its principles must be captured in our minds and hearts. Through consistent reading, prayerful pondering, and conscientious application, its teachings will become an essential part of the fabric of our lives.
What does the Book of Mormon mean to you? Has it been a source of inspiration and power in your life? Will it continue to be?
If you have not yet drunk deeply from this fountain of pure truth, with all of my soul I encourage you to do so now. Don’t let the consistent study of the Book of Mormon be one of the things that you intend to do but never quite accomplish. Begin today.
I bear witness that it can become a personal “Urim and Thummim” in your life.
Benson, Ezra Taft. “The Book of Mormon Is the Word of God.” Ensign, May 1975, p. 63.
Benson, Ezra Taft. “Joseph Smith: Prophet to Our Generation.” Ensign, Nov. 1981, p. 61.
Faust, James E. “The Keystone of Our Religion.” Ensign, Nov. 1983, p. 9.
Hinckley, Gordon B. “An Angel from on High, the Long, Long Silence Broke.” Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 7.
Hinckley, Gordon B. “Praise to the Man.” Ensign, Aug. 1983, p. 2.
McConkie, Bruce R. “This Generation Shall Have My Word through You.” Ensign, June 1980, p. 54.
McConkie, Bruce R. “What Think Ye of the Book of Mormon?” Ensign, Nov. 1983, p. 72.
Packer, Boyd K. “Scriptures.” Ensign, Nov. 1982, p. 51.
Petersen, Mark E. “It Was a Miracle!” Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 11.
Petersen, Mark E. “Evidence of Things Not Seen.” Ensign, May 1978, p. 61.
Petersen, Mark E. “The Last Words of Moroni.” Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 57.
Romney, Marion G. “The Book of Mormon.” Ensign, May 1980, p. 65.
Tanner, N. Eldon. “The Inevitable Choice.” Ensign, Sept. 1977, p. 2.
“The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon.” Ensign, Dec. 1983, p. 31.
“Testimonies of the Book of Mormon.” Ensign, Dec. 1983, p. 6.
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