Summary: The scriptures tell us that we should “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding,” Although that sounds like good advice, yet the question has often been asked: Are we to seek the Lord’s will in every decision we make or does the Lord expect us to use own God-given agency to decide many things for ourselves? Are we being rebellious by putting our will above God’s or are we being slothful in not doing anything until God commands us? This article will look at stores in the scripture that can help us find the answer to this question.
We are all familiar with Proverbs 3:5 which reads, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding,” yet sometimes that can be hard to do, especially when we consider that God has given us the right to decide things for ourselves. Therefore, the question has been asked: Do we trust in the Lord in every decision we make, or does God expect us to use our own understanding when making decisions? Perhaps we can answer that question by examining a familiar story found in the Book of Mormon
King Mosiah had four sons who wanted to go preach to the Lamanite and convert them to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The problem was that the Lamanites were “a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people; a people who delighted in murdering the Nephites” (Alma 17:14). Therefore, their mission was an extremely dangerous one.
That was the concern of their father however, “they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God… [and] they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation” (Alma 17:2,3).
Having received assurances from God that they should go preach to the Lamanites, “it came to pass that they journeyed many days in the wilderness, and they fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a portion of his Spirit to go with them, and abide with them, that they might be an instrument in the hands of God to bring, if it were possible, their brethren, the Lamanites, to the knowledge of the truth” (verses, 9).
In response to their prayers, “the Lord said unto them also: Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good example unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.
And it came to pass that the hearts of the sons of Mosiah, and also those who were with them, took courage to go forth unto the Lamanites to declare unto them the word of God” (verses 11,12).
They then split up with each person going their separate ways. Ammon went to the land of Ishmael and was captured, tied up and brought before a king named Lamoni, but after some questioning, the king was pleased with what Ammon had said and made him one of his servants.
Three days later, Ammon, along with some other servants, took a flock of animals to the waters of Sebus to drink but no sooner had they arrived than a group of other men scattered their flock. “Now the servants of the king began to murmur, saying: Now the king will slay us, as he has our brethren because their flocks were scattered by the wickedness of these men. And they began to weep exceedingly, saying: Behold, our flocks are scattered already. Now they wept because of the fear of being slain. Now when Ammon saw this his heart was swollen within him with joy; for, said he, I will show forth my power unto these my fellow-servants, or the power which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words. And now, these were the thoughts of Ammon, when he saw the afflictions of those whom he termed to be his brethren” (verses 28-30).
There are a number of things we can learn from this story but there is one overarching theme that runs throughout all of it.
The first thing we learn is that Ammon and his brothers had an idea that they should go preach the gospel to the Lamanites, which certainly was an admirable goal, but was it a wise decision? Instead of doing what they thought was best, we read that they diligently searched the scriptures in order to know what the word of God had to say, and they did so while engaged in “much prayer and fasting.” We’re told that as they did this, “they had the spirit of prophecy,” which is to say they had “the spirit of revelation.” In other words, God revealed to them what he wanted them to do.
After having received assurance that God did want them to go preach the gospel to the Lamanites, they gathered the supplies they needed and began their journey through the wilderness to the land of the Lamanites. You would think that as they traveled, they would have been confident that they were doing God’s will and that everything was going to work out well, yet, we read that “they journeyed many days in the wilderness, and they fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a portion of his Spirit to go with them, and abide with them, that they might be an instrument in the hands of God to bring, if it were possible, their brethren, the Lamanites, to the knowledge of the truth.”
The journey to the land of the Lamanites was not just a short walk along a well paved road. Rather, Ammon and his friends traveled many days through a wilderness. That must not have been an easy journey and yet they fasted and prayed often. Food provides us with energy, then why did they fast when they needed all the energy they could muster to make a long and difficult journey? More than that, if they had already received assurances that they were doing what God wanted, why did they not only continue praying, but fasting as well? Was it because they weren’t confident that they had received the correct inspiration and needed more conformation?
According to verse 9, they prayed for the Lord’s Spirit to be with them and abide with them as they preached, so they would know what to say that would soften the hearts of the people they spoke to. They prayed for the Lord to guide them in the decisions they made, especially concerning where to go, what to do and what to say. And they prayed for the Lord to use them as his instruments.
As Christians, we often have the desire to do good and there are times when we get ideas or impressions of what we think we should do. However, not everything we think of is what’s best. It’s been said that most of the evil in the world has been done by people who had the best of intentions. No matter what we do, there are always going to be consequences we didn’t anticipate which often results in things not turning out the way we expected.
For this reason, it is always wise to first seek divine inspiration before acting, but it has to be sought for with a sincere heart, truly wanting to know the truth. This is what the sons of King Mosiah did. They didn’t assume that just because they had a righteous desire that they should rush out and act upon it. They searched the scriptures as well as fasted and prayed with real intent until they had received a sure confirmation from God of what he wanted them to do.
But even then, as they journeyed to their destination, they continued to pray and fast, but this time to have the Lord’s Spirit to be with them. As we go through the journey we call life, we will often encounter situations where we’re not sure how to act. That doesn’t mean we should go around all day fasting and praying to know what God would have us do, but what we can do is it is each morning when we say our prayers, we can plead for the Lord’s Spirit to be with us, to guide us in the decisions we make, and for him to direct our path.
The Lord answered the prayers of Ammon and his friends by telling them to “go forth among the Lamanites,” but he counseled them to “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions,” and the reason he gave them that counsel was “[so] that ye may show forth good example unto them in me.”
We’ve all heard the saying, “Your actions speak so loud that I can’t hear a word you’re saying,” and Jesus taught, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Although Christians know this is how they’re to behave, yet how eere the sons of King Mosiah supposed to do that to those “who delighted in murdering the Nephites?”
We know that Ammon had it easy preaching the gospel to King Lamoni who readily accepted his message, but his brothers were reviled against, thrown out of several cities, and eventually tied up, cast in prison, stripped naked and denied food and water. In situations like this, it would seem useless for them to let their light shine before men by being patient in long-suffering and afflictions.
Although we may not be thrown in prison for what we believe, but especially today, Christians are being mocked, harassed, and persecuted for their beliefs. When being treated this way, our natural reaction is to fight back to defend ourselves, but the Lord tells us to “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions.”
However, notice why God told Ammon and his friends to behave this way. He said that if they will do that then, “I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.” We can’t preach the gospel of “love your enemies” while treating them like they treat us. If God is love (1 John 4:16) then we have to demonstrate God’s love through how we treat others, especially towards those who hate us. God can’t use us as his instrument if we’re not willing to let our light shine by living the principles Jesus taught so that others can see it reflected in the way we behave.
We see this very principle played out later in the story. After having much success in converting a large number of Lamanites, who became known as the people of God, those who didn’t believe “began to fall upon them and began to slay them with the sword.” However, instead of fighting back, these converted Lamanites “prostrated themselves to the earth before their enemies and began to call on the name of the Lord” (Alma 24: 21). As result, “a thousand and five of them” were slain.
However, “when the Lamanites saw that their brethren would not flee from the sword… but that they would lie down and perish… they did forebear from slaying them; and there were many whose hearts had swollen in them… [and] they repented of the things they had done… And it came to pass that the people of God were joined that day by more than the number who had been slain” (verses 23-26).
Had the people of God fought back to preserve their life, it is certain they would have all been killed and not one unrighteous Lamanite would have been converted. It was their willingness to live the principles of their faith that had a profound effect upon many of the Lamanites and softened their hearts to the point where they wanted to know why the people of God behaved the way they did, which resulted in more Lamanites being converted to Christ than those who had died
What we see is that God was able to use the people of God as his instrument in bringing more souls unto him precisely because they were patient and long-suffering in their afflictions. Sometimes, when we find ourselves being persecuted for what we believe, the most natural reaction is to fight back and give railing for railing, but when we show love to our enemies and do good to those who hate us and who despitefully use us, that’s when we’re truly letting the light of the gospel shine forth through us for others to see.
Although we know that Ammon and his friends eventually did succeed in converting many Lamanites, but how did they do that? What was their plan? Did they have a strategy for how to get people to listen to them? From the account we have, we read that they “took courage to go forth unto the Lamanites to declare unto them the word of God,” with no idea of how they were going to do that.
We read that “as Ammon entered the land of Ishmael, the Lamanites took him and bound him, as was their custom to bind all the Nephites who fell into their hands, and carry them before the king; and thus it was left to the pleasure of the king to slay them, or to retain them in captivity, or to cast them into prison, or to cast them out of his land, according to his will and pleasure.”
Ammon stood helplessly bound before a Lamanite king who could do with him whatever he wanted. He could have Ammon killed in the most gruesome way imaginable, or he could cast him into prison and let him die a slow, lingering death. He could have him whipped and beaten and if he was lucky, the king could take everything Ammon had and then thrown him back into the wilderness leaving him nothing to survive with. It took great courage for Ammon to not succumb to fear as he faced an uncertain and potentially terrifying fate.
There may be times in our life when we too might be called upon to show courage in the face of extreme danger, but how do we do that? That is yet another lesson we can learn from this story, as we will see later.
In the brief account of Ammon’s encounter with King Lamoni, we have to assume that what Ammon said in response to the king’s questions, pleased Lamoni, and after some negotiating, the king allowed Ammon to be one of his servants. However, Ammon’s goal was to preach the gospel to these people, but how was he going to do that, especially considering that he was now merely a lowly servant, and a hated Nephite at that?
Three days later, as he and some other servants were attempting to water the king’s flock, a group of men scattered them. “Now the servants of the king began to murmur, saying: Now the king will slay us, as he has our brethren because their flocks were scattered by the wickedness of these men… Now when Ammon saw this his heart was swollen within him with joy; for, said he, I will show forth my power unto these my fellow-servants, or the power which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words”
Although Ammon was attending to his duties as a servant, yet he was continually looking for an opening that would allow him the opportunity to preach the gospel, and when he saw how the servants who were with him feared being killed by their king, Ammon thought he had found the opportunity he was looking for. Now he had a plan, which was to save the flocks of the king, thereby winning the hearts of these servants in hopes that they would then listen to his message of salvation and become converted to Christ.
However, we know that’s not what happened. Instead, the servants went back to their king and told him what Ammon had done. After listening their story, it was Lamoni wanted to hear what Ammon had to say and who was the first person to be converted to Christ. What this shows is that it is God who provides the opportunities to serve him, and when we’re doing what he wants, he uses us the way and at the time he chooses, according to his wisdom rather than ours.
These are some of the lessons we can learn from this story, but in all these instances and throughout this entire account there is a constant theme, and that is that Ammon and his brethren placed their complete trust in God.
When they first had a desire to go preach to the Lamanites, instead of trusting in their own understanding, they went to the Lord in fasting and prayer, trusting in him to tell them what they should do. As they traveled through the wilderness they fasted and prayed many times, not because they doubted that what they were doing was right, but to plead for the Lord to be with them and guide them in their missionary labors.
When they had received assurances that God would be with them, they “took courage” and trusted in the Lord and went forth with confidence. The reason why they each split up and went a different way instead of staying together for safety, was because they trusted the Lord’s promise that they would be kept safe and be successful in their efforts.
The reason why Ammon was able to stand before King Lamoni while being tightly bound, knowing that the king could have him put to death, was because he trusted the Lord to preserve his life. Even when his missionary companions “had many afflictions; [where] they did suffer much, both in body and in mind, such as hunger, thirst and fatigue” (verse 5), being persecuted and driven from place to place and eventually being cast into prison with no reason to believe they would be released alive, yet they too trusted in the Lord, no matter what happened to them.
All of them had a desire to preach the gospel to the Lamanites but none of them had any plan of how they were going to do that. Instead, they trusted in the Lord to lead them, and they trusted in the Lord to tell them what they should say in the very hour they needed to speak (see Luke 12:12). Another word for this kind of trust is faith.
We find another example of this in the story of when the Lord told Lehi to send his sons back to Jerusalem to get the brass plates from Laban. They all knew what kind of a man Laban was and so they also knew this was almost a fool’s errand. But because this is what the Lord had commanded Lehi to do this, he trusted in the Lord and sent his sons back to Jerusalem.
Laman and Lemuel murmured and complained but Nephi assured them that it could be done, however, things turned out exactly as Laman and Lemuel had predicted. Laban became angry at their request, calling them robbers, and they had to flee from his presence empty handed, giving them no reason to believe he would ever change his mind.
Even so, Nephi still trusted in the Lord’s word, and convinced his brothers to offer their father’s considerable wealth to purchase the plates, except this time when they went to see Laban, they nearly lost their lives and did lose all their father’s fortune. Nevertheless, Nephi never lost his trust in the Lord to help him and his brothers complete the task they had been given, no matter how bleak and impossible the chances of success seemed to be. This is why he told his brothers, “Wherefore, let us be faithful (trustful) in keeping the commandments of the Lord” (1 Nephi 4:16).
When Laman and Lemuel refused to go back a third time, Nephi went forth alone, “not knowing beforehand the things which I should do,” and depending entirely on the Spirit to lead him (1 Nephi 4:6). In other words, Nephi had no plan of how he was going to get the plates from Laban, but he went out into the dark of the night anyhow, trusting in the Lord, or in other words, had faith in the Lord to guide him.
This is the kind of trust in God that Ammon and his brethren had, from the time they first had the desire to go preach to the Lamanites and throughout their entire stay in the land of the Lamanites. This then becomes an example for us to follow.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Covenants and Teachings of the Book of Mormon