“Give Heed unto the Word of the Lord”


L. Tom Perry
From a Church Educational System fireside on 2 May 1999 in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
If we are not looking to the scriptures as a source of great spiritual power, we are missing a wonderful opportunity for spiritual nourishment and strength.

In this modern day and age, there is a greater need for spiritual power than perhaps at any time before in our history. President David O. McKay said:

“The peril of this century is spiritual apathy. As the body requires sunlight, good food, proper exercise, and rest, so the spirit of man requires the sunlight of the holy Spirit; proper exercise of the spiritual functions; avoiding of evils that affect spiritual health, which are more ravaging in their effects than typhoid fever, pneumonia, or other diseases that attack the body” (Gospel Ideals [1953], 360).

Now, where do we find this spiritual power? How do we maintain our spiritual health and find the proper exercise of our spiritual functions? I believe the answer lies in knowing and understanding the word of God, which we learn through a careful study of the scriptures. When we know the scriptures, when we understand them, we get a feeling for what the Lord has revealed to His children through the ages of time. We learn His will for us. And we are strengthened spiritually.

Feasting upon the Words of Christ

I find it interesting that the scriptures are compared to food. Nephi taught us to “feast upon the words of Christ” (2 Ne. 32:3). Just as we need temporal food to maintain our health and strength, so also do we need spiritual food, as President McKay has suggested, to keep us spiritually healthy and strong.

The book of Alma says that the word of God “had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else” (Alma 31:5). Nephi promised that “the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Ne. 32:3). Jacob said that the “word of God … healeth the wounded soul” (Jacob 2:8). And the sons of Mosiah, who were men of great spiritual power, got that power because “they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God” (Alma 17:2; emphasis added).

Those are wonderful promises. They are promises that are held out to all of us. Do we look to the scriptures as a source of great spiritual power? If not, we are missing a wonderful opportunity for spiritual nourishment and strength.

Lessons from Lehi’s Family

There is a story told in the Book of Mormon that illustrates the importance of the scriptures. It also teaches us important lessons about how we should and should not seek to solve our problems.

Lehi and his family lived in a time of distress in Jerusalem. Men’s hearts were turned to evil and wickedness. Lehi called upon the people to repent, but they did not respond, and destruction of the city was imminent. The Lord commanded Lehi in a dream to take his family and depart into the wilderness. Lehi was obedient and he departed into the wilderness, leaving behind his house and all of the precious things he owned. They took only tents and provisions.

After they had gone several days’ journey, Lehi had another dream. He was told to send his sons back to Jerusalem to get the brass plates from Laban, which contained “the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of [Lehi’s] forefathers.” Then he said to Nephi, “Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brothers should go unto the house of Laban, and seek the records, and bring them down hither into the wilderness” (1 Ne. 3:3–4). Clearly it was of great importance for the family to have the scriptures before they departed.

The older two brothers murmured against their father, saying that it was a hard task he was asking them to do. But Nephi stepped forward and offered those classic words of faith: “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).

There are lessons for us to learn from the example of these young men as they proceeded with the task of obtaining the record. First, Laman’s faith was tested to see if he would listen to the Spirit or rely on his own judgment. When they went up to Jerusalem, it says, “And we cast lots—who of us should go in unto the house of Laban. And it came to pass that the lot fell upon Laman” (1 Ne. 3:11). But as you know, that plan failed miserably. When Laman told Laban that he desired the records, Laban was angry at him and thrust him out of his house and sent men to try and kill him. Laman had to flee for his life.

The first lesson learned from this remarkable experience is that just leaving things to chance seldom brings about the desired result. As we proceed through life, if we do not have a course to follow, if we just leave everything to happenstance, the opportunity of reaching the goal that we are trying to achieve will be almost impossible.

The Lord’s Plan

Before proceeding further with the story of the sons of Lehi obtaining the brass plates, I should like to say a few things about the Lord’s plan for us. The Lord has certainly not left things to chance for His children. He has left us with a definite plan to follow if we are to return to Him and enjoy eternal life. As we study and know His plan, then we can prepare ourselves for what is ahead after this mortal experience. We learn of that plan through the scriptures—another reason why the word of God is so important to us.

Let me briefly summarize the plan. In the Lord’s plan He provided for us a premortal life. The teachings of scriptures and latter-day prophets and apostles clearly affirm that we lived as male and female spirit children of our heavenly parents in a premortal state. It was while we were in that premortal state that the Lord created the world so that we would have a place to come down and carry out His plan for us.

In the premortal world we were taught the Father’s plan of redemption and enjoyed moral agency. Through the use of this agency, men and women developed varying appetites, talents, and capacities over time, and no spirits remained the same. Lucifer, or Satan, stood in opposition to the plan of the Lord. He sought to take away the agency of man and even sought to take God’s place (see Moses 4:1–4).

Here is a clear example of how the scriptures teach us important spiritual truths about God’s plan for us and how it works. We also know from the scriptures that war in heaven followed and that Satan and his hosts were cast out of heaven to the earth and forever denied physical bodies and the opportunity for salvation (see Rev. 12:7–9). We also know from the scriptures that the war that started in heaven between the forces of good and evil continues in this life. Lucifer continues his opposition to the Father’s plan by advocating to men on earth a life of disobedience and sin.

After our premortal state, it was part of the plan that we should come to earth in what the scriptures call our second estate. Again from the scriptures we learn that mortality had two basic purposes: First, we came to earth to obtain mortal bodies of flesh and bones, without which the fulness of joy cannot be obtained (see D&C 93:33–34).

Second, we came to earth to gain experience and prove ourselves (see Abr. 3:24–27). We gain experience through trials and the vicissitudes of life. Tribulation brings patience, which brings experience, which can bring hope. We prove ourselves by how we exercise our moral agency, by the choices we make, by obedience or disobedience to the Lord’s commandments.

As a part of His eternal plan, there was to be a fall. Mortality was introduced by Adam and Eve. The Fall was as much a part of the foreordained plan of salvation as the Atonement. It was a necessary step forward in the progress of man. Because of the Fall, all men and women are separated from God. This is known as spiritual death. In this fallen state, mankind is also subjected to physical death and decay as well as to the temptations associated with the flesh. It is in a fallen world that we are fully given the opportunities to be tested and to prove ourselves.

But all was not lost. The Lord provided an Atonement through Jesus Christ to overcome the effects of the Fall. The Atonement is the means by which imperfect man is reconciled to a perfect God. The Atonement provides a resurrection for all who have lived in mortality and returns them to the presence of God to be judged. In addition, those who accept and apply the principles of the gospel and rely upon the merits and mercy of Christ permanently overcome spiritual death and receive exaltation in the celestial kingdom.

Because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, all men and women who come into mortality will likewise rise from the dead, “for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). The Resurrection is the inseparable union of body and spirit, without which man cannot receive the fulness of joy.

Not all resurrected bodies will receive the same glory, for there are celestial bodies, terrestrial bodies, and telestial bodies, and our kingdom of glory is determined by our worthiness (see 1 Cor. 15:40–42; D&C 76:50–113; D&C 88:20–32). All of us should be striving for the kind of life enjoyed by our Father in Heaven. It is called exaltation or eternal life. It consists of receiving the fulness of glory of the Father and the continuation of family units into the eternities. It is to receive the highest glory in the celestial kingdom (see D&C 131:1–4). Eternal life comes only by faithful obedience to the statutes and commandments of Jesus Christ, including the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.

Thus the plan of our Heavenly Father is fully in place for His children. Nothing is left to chance. The challenge we have is to prepare our life that it will be in harmony with the great plan He has established for us.

And where do we learn of that plan? Through the scriptures that God has preserved for us. Is it any wonder that the Lord wanted Lehi’s family to have the scriptures with them? Is it any wonder that He directed Lehi to send his sons back to Jerusalem to obtain them?

And yet in their first attempt to obtain the plates, they relied on their own judgment. There is a great lesson for us in that. How complete is the planning we have made for our mortal experience? Does it conform with that which the Lord has established for us, or are we just hoping that things will work out for us? If we leave this most important of all tasks to chance, we will fail. If we, through wise choices, put our lives in conformity to God’s plan—and we can only do this as we learn about that plan through studying the word of God—then we will receive the greatest gift He has promised His children: the gift of life eternal.

Worldly Influences

Now let us return to our story of the sons of Lehi and their attempts to get the brass plates of Laban. Let us see what other lessons there are for us to learn from the experiences of these young men.

When Laman returned to his brothers and reported the anger of Laban and how he had to flee for his life, Nephi proposed another approach for obtaining the record. He said:

“Wherefore, let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; therefore let us go down to the land of our father’s inheritance, for behold he left gold and silver, and all manner of riches. And all this he hath done because of the commandments of the Lord. …

“And it came to pass that we went in unto Laban, and desired him that he would give unto us the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, for which we would give unto him our gold, and our silver, and all our precious things.

“And it came to pass that when Laban saw our property, and that it was exceedingly great, he did lust after it, insomuch that he thrust us out, and sent his servants to slay us, that he might obtain our property.

“And it came to pass that we did flee before the servants of Laban, and we were obliged to leave behind our property, and it fell into the hands of Laban” (1 Ne. 3:16, 24–26).

Isn’t it interesting that even though Nephi was trying to obey God’s commandment, the second attempt was no more successful than the first. Why is that so? Because they were still trying to do it through their own wisdom. They tried to obtain the record through the use of worldly things. But this brought no more success than had the drawing of lots, or relying on chance. Here again is a great lesson for us.

The scriptures are full of warnings against worldliness and pride because they can lead us off the course that leads to eternal life. The Lord explained to the Prophet Joseph Smith that many people will veer from the path because their hearts are set so much upon the things of the world (see D&C 121:35). Perhaps we should look at some of the counsel the prophets have given us through the ages concerning worldliness.

Paul counseled us to adorn ourselves in modest apparel (see 1 Tim. 2:9). The world, with its fashions, would certainly take us far from that objective. Again from Paul we are counseled to “flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). Is this not a call for us to be careful about the things we set our hearts on and the kinds of recreation we enjoy?

President George Q. Cannon (1827–1901), a counselor in the First Presidency, had something to say about our recreation:

“The mania for recreations of various kinds which has seized upon many of the people is harmful in several ways. It unfits them for the regular duties of life. It renders them restless and impatient of proper restraint. It obstructs business. It tends to contract habits of dissipation. It throws our young folks into the company of persons whose society should be shunned. It cultivates worldliness. It conducts to many evils, and the spirit of purity, temperance, holiness and peace will not abide in resorts such as have been established for the purpose of enticing the Saints into folly. …

“We have no disposition to deprive either young or old of proper amusement. It is necessary to perfect health and rational enjoyment” (Gospel Truth, sel. Jerreld L. Newquist, 2 vols. [1957–74], 2:147).

One of the most destructive and deadly things of the world is moral uncleanliness and breaking the law of chastity. The answer to that is to let “virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45). Here is some wise counsel about virtue from President Spencer W. Kimball:

“In our journey toward eternal life, purity must be our constant aim. To walk and talk with God, to serve with God, to follow his example and become as a god, we must attain perfection. In his presence there can be no guile, no wickedness, no transgression. In numerous scriptures he has made it clear that all worldliness, evil and weakness must be dropped before we can ascend unto ‘the hill of the Lord.’ The Psalmist asked:

“‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?’

“And he answered the question:

“‘He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.’ (Ps. 24:3–4)” (The Miracle of Forgiveness [1969], 26).

Let us learn from this example found in the Book of Mormon. Let us not turn to worldliness, thinking that it will bring us happiness and success. Note what our current prophet and seer has taught:

“We see all around us a worldly creep that is destructive of faith. … I know that the temporal things of life are important. I know that the temporal affairs of the Church are important. I know that we as a people must live in the world. But I hope that we will not surrender ourselves to the world. Ours must be a warning voice” (Gordon B. Hinckley, General Authority training meeting, 27 Sept. 1994).

We learn from this story of Nephi and his brothers an important lesson. Living by chance and trusting in the ways of the world did not bring about the desired result, nor will it bring about the desired result for us.

The Importance of Faith

Now at last, after two dismal failures, the young men were ready to learn the right way to carry out the Lord’s commandments. Nephi again said unto his brothers:

“Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands? …

“And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do” (1 Ne. 4:1, 6; emphasis added).

This time Nephi went forward trusting in faith that the Lord would deliver the record into his hands. And what was the key to his success? He was led by the Spirit, and he followed its promptings.

We live in such an interesting time in the history of mankind. The Lord has blessed us with so many technological advances that it is difficult to keep up with the pace of the world that is around us. And yet there is a lack of a sure foundation of people knowing how they should live and what values will endure and last. There is so much immorality, dishonesty, and “me-ism,” so much destruction of the environment and all the good things the Lord has blessed us with.

All we have to do is look around us to see the conflicts that are occurring. They would evaporate immediately if we all had faith in God and recognized each man and woman as our eternal brother or sister. We do not teach that the principle of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is merely for what it will do for us in the next world. We know there is a real and practical value in believing that there is an all-wise Heavenly Father in charge of the universe, that we are related to Him, that we are, in very reality, children of God with the hallmark of divinity upon us. This helps us live a different type of life than those who believe that man is merely an animal concerned only with the requirements of creature existence.

Yes, faith in God is critical to our success in life, to keeping a balance and finding success in our righteous endeavors. Is this not what we learn from the experience of Lehi’s little colony as they tried to obtain the scriptures from Laban? They learned that it was faith in the Lord, and only faith in the Lord, that finally brought them success.

And how do we gain that faith?

To know God, we must understand and gain knowledge of His works all around us. We see the marvelous works that are accomplished under His hand as we go through our mortal experience. We see so many evidences of His being. We can see patterns of mankind: when people live according to God’s laws, they are blessed, but when they turn away from Him, they fall into despair and destruction.

And where are those patterns found? In the scriptures. The brass plates were so important to Lehi’s colony because they contained much of the Old Testament, and the sons risked their lives to obtain them. And the Lord suggested that if they failed to obtain them, it would have put the people of Lehi in jeopardy once they came to the promised land and became a great people (see 1 Ne. 4:13). Why is that so? Because in the scriptures we learn the plan of God for us. We learn that faith is the way to find that plan and to gain eternal life. From the scriptures we learn what happens when we fail to listen to the Spirit and when we trust in the things of the world.

Surely with almost 6,000 years of history recorded in the scriptural records, we have enough to gain an understanding of who God is and how His great plan works for mankind. And, of course, in the scriptures are repeated time and time again the glorious stories of God’s dealings with mankind through His prophets and the blessings that come when His people are obedient. It is in the scriptures that we find abundant testimony of the reality of Him who is the Maker of all.

It is through the consistent and careful study of the scriptures that we become deeply rooted in the gospel soil, which provides a solid foundation for our faith.

Through the scriptures the gospel of Jesus Christ is revealed to us. There is no news that even approaches the good news of its beauty, insight, fulness, and depth. Our love of the scriptures should be paramount if our faith is to be firmly anchored. We should not look upon reading and studying the scriptures as an inconvenience and something to be endured. In the word of God is power and nourishment and life.

The Lord’s Promises

It is interesting to me how many promises the Lord extends to those who study His word. I cited some previously—there is power in the word, the word can heal the wounded soul, the words of Christ will tell us all things that we should do. Here are other promises to those who turn to God’s word and trust in it fully. I cite only a few additional examples.

Joshua was told that if he would meditate upon the book of the law day and night, “then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Josh. 1:8).

And Paul made this promise: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

“That the man of God may be perfect” (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

Nephi saw that the iron rod in his father’s dream represented the word of God. And then he made this promise about the word of God:

“Whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them” (1 Ne. 15:24).

Can you imagine a more wonderful promise than that—that through studying the word of God we will find power to resist temptation?

The Psalmist made this marvelous declaration: “Thy lamp is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105). Have you ever been out camping in the mountains at night? It is pitch black and you must find your way to your tent. What do we do under such circumstances? We take a flashlight and shine it on the path so we can see where to walk. This is one of the marvelous promises of the Lord, that in the gospel light we shall be able to find our way in the darkness and see the path that we are to walk.

In the New Testament there are additional insights into the power of the scriptures. In Luke, after the Savior appeared to His disciples following His Resurrection and then departed from them, they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). There is a wonderful promise for you. I encourage you to find the real meaning of having your heart burn within you as you study the words of the Lord.

And what will such a study do for us? The scriptures testify of our Savior. In John we read: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).

I cite one last promise extended to all of those who diligently study and obey the word of God. Perhaps this is the most marvelous promise of them all. The prophet Helaman wrote:

“Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—

“And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven” (Hel. 3:29–30).

Turn to the Scriptures

In light of these marvelous promises, my encouragement to you is that you do not leave the study of the scriptures to chance. Do not trust in the things of the world to help you find your way to things of eternal value. Turn to the scriptures. In them is the plan for our happiness. Through them we can grow in knowledge and understanding of what the Lord has revealed to His prophets through the ages.

Do not become so busy that you reduce the power that comes from reading the scriptures by finding yourself overly involved in the things of the world. Have faith and confidence in the Lord’s dealings with His children here on earth. Build your faith strong by trusting in an understanding of what the Lord has given us. Surely here is the foundation we need to gain that fundamental witness of the saving grace of our Lord and Savior.

May I remind you of a promise previously cited. If we seek direction in our life, here is what the Lord has said:

“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; emphasis added).

May the Lord bless each of you with a desire to study and know and grow in your knowledge of the scriptures. May you find them to be a guide and a source of power to you. May you let them direct your life for the eternal good that you are seeking here in mortality and in the worlds to come.

[illustrations] Paintings by Jerry Thompson, except as noted; Electronic composition by Patric Gerber

[illustration] Lehi and His Family Traveling Near the Red Sea, © 1976 Gary E. Smith