When Alma, high priest of the Nephites, learned that the people called the Zoramites had separated themselves from the Nephites and were engaging in wicked practices, “his heart … began to sicken because of the iniquity of the people. For it was the cause of great sorrow to Alma to know of iniquity among his people.” In addition, the Zoramites presented a great military danger to the Nephites. The Nephites “greatly feared that the Zoramites would enter into a correspondence with the Lamanites, and that it would be the means of great loss on the part of the Nephites.” (See Alma 31:1–4.)
In similar situations, many leaders would want to take up arms and go to war. But in his concern for his Zoramite brethren, Alma proposed a better way: “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5).
The word of God can have a powerful influence. Sometimes we may be tempted to think that those we teach would rather talk about something else or be entertained. But effective parents, leaders, home teachers, visiting teachers, and classroom teachers in the Church know that when they teach the doctrine by the Spirit, those they teach are often awakened to a desire for the things of God.
Why We Should Teach the Word of God
When Alma was preaching to the Zoramites, he spoke to a group of people whose afflictions had prepared them to receive the word of God. He taught them about the power of the word. By studying what he said, we can better understand why we should use the word of God as the source of all our gospel teaching.
He compared the word to a seed that can be planted in our hearts. If you have tended a garden, you have seen that the seeds you plant, though very small, can burst with life not long after they receive a little moisture. The energy in a seed is so powerful that it may even push aside hardened ground in order to send up its first sprout. That is what happens when we “give place” for the word of God to be planted in our hearts. If we do not cast out the seed—or, in other words, if we do not resist the Spirit of the Lord—the seed will begin to swell and grow. Alma said, “It will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me” (Alma 32:28).
When this happens within us, we know that the seed, or the word of God, is good: “Behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good. … And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good” (Alma 32:30, 33). Alma continued, “If ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life” and bearing fruit that is “most precious” (Alma 32:41–42).
Elder Boyd K. Packer said: “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 20; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 17). No worldly ideas or principles have this power. No spellbinding lectures or entertaining presentations can touch individuals so profoundly that they turn their hearts to Christ. Centering our teaching on the truths of the gospel is the only way we can become instruments in God’s hands to help instill the faith that will lead others to repent and come unto Him.
The teaching of doctrine protects us against spiritual waywardness. It can call us back when we go astray. Elder Russell M. Nelson explained:
“Years ago as a young medical student I saw many patients afflicted with diseases that are now preventable. Today it is possible to immunize individuals against conditions that once were disabling—even deadly. One medical method by which acquired immunity is conferred is inoculation. The term inoculate is fascinating. It comes from two Latin roots: in, meaning ‘within’; and oculus, meaning ‘an eye.’ The verb to inoculate, therefore, literally means ‘to put an eye within’—to monitor against harm.
“An affliction like polio can cripple or destroy the body. An affliction like sin can cripple or destroy the spirit. The ravages of polio can now be prevented by immunization, but the ravages of sin require other means of prevention. Doctors cannot immunize against iniquity. Spiritual protection comes only from the Lord—and in his own way. Jesus chooses not to inoculate, but to indoctrinate. His method employs no vaccine; it utilizes the teaching of divine doctrine—a governing ‘eye within’—to protect the eternal spirits of his children” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1995, 41–42; or Ensign, May 1995, 32).
Teaching from the Scriptures and the Words of Latter-day Prophets
When we use the scriptures and the words of latter-day prophets as the source of all our teaching, we invite the Spirit to bear witness. This brings to our teaching “the power of God unto the convincing of men” (D&C 11:21).
A bishop related the following experience at a stake leadership meeting:
“Almost 30 years ago I served as priests quorum adviser in our ward. In our quorum lessons, we made sure to read the scriptures and words of the living prophets and to emphasize the doctrines. Because the Spirit was there, our meetings were memorable and sweet.
“Included in the quorum was a young priest, Paolo, who seldom came home; his parents usually did not know where to find him. Occasionally I was able to contact him, and from time to time he would show up at quorum meeting. We were striving in the quorum to gain a better understanding of the principles of the gospel, and we concentrated on learning our lessons from the scriptures. When Paolo came, I was spiritually aware that these truths were touching his heart even though he would then disappear from town for weeks.
“One Sunday morning Paolo appeared at church, clean-shaven and dressed in a suit, white shirt, and tie. We were all happily surprised. We learned later that he had had an experience the night before, far away from home. He had fallen into deep discouragement. About midnight his mind opened up to a realization or spiritual experience that God and Satan were fighting for his soul, and that Satan was winning. Right then, in the middle of the night, he got up from where he was and walked many miles until he reached his home, woke his parents and told them what had happened, and then, as dawn broke, cleaned himself up and came to church.
“He never looked back. He repented of the wrongs he had done and later fell in love and married one of the noblest young women in our ward. Today he is an upstanding father, priesthood holder, and citizen.
“I have often reflected that what Paolo heard in those quorum meetings had a lot to do with the turnaround he made in his life. I knew at the time that he was being touched when we talked of gospel truths in the quorum. I think those truths kept reminding him of who he really was and what God expected of him. I think they worked upon his mind and heart and made him more and more uncomfortable with the lifestyle he was choosing. Through that slim wedge in his hardened heart, the Spirit could speak to him and warn him. How grateful I am that we did not waste our quorum time talking about cars or sports or my idea of how the boys were supposed to be living! I think Paolo heard the Lord call to him through the gospel truths that we studied together.”
We can show those we teach how to find the power in the scriptures. Elder Boyd K. Packer declared: “You are to teach the scriptures. … If your students are acquainted with the revelations, there is no question—personal or social or political or occupational—that need go unanswered. Therein is contained the fulness of the everlasting gospel. Therein we find principles of truth that will resolve every confusion and every problem and every dilemma that will face the human family or any individual in it” (Teach the Scriptures [address to religious educators, 14 Oct. 1977], 5).