Summary: The four sons of King Mosiah went to their father and “desired of him that he would grant unto them that they might… go up to the land of Nephi… that they might impart the word of God to their brethren, the Lamanites.” This desire wasn’t just a fleeting thought, but was something they felt very strongly about. But why did they feel this way? Their close friend, Alma, the younger, and his father didn’t have this same desire, then why did they? This article examines where such feelings come from and why.
The four sons of King Mosiah went about mocking the people who believed in Christ until they had an experience that changed their attitudes forever. From that time on, “they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them” (Mosiah 27:35).
But there came a time when they went to their father, the king, and “desired of him that he would grant unto them that they might… go up to the land of Nephi… that they might impart the word of God to their brethren, the Lamanites” because, “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”. (Mosiah 28:1,3).
This request greatly troubled the king because the Lamanites were “a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people; a people who delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them” (Alma 17:14). Even so, the sons of Mosiah “did plead with their father many days that they might go up to the land of Nephi” (Mosiah 28:5).
This desire of theirs wasn’t just a fleeting thought, but was something they felt very strongly about, and because of their constant pleading, “king Mosiah went and inquired of the Lord if he should let his sons go up among the Lamanites to preach the word. And the Lord said unto Mosiah: Let them go up, for many shall believe on their words, and they shall have eternal life; and I will deliver thy sons out of the hands of the Lamanites” (Mosiah 28:6,7).
It is clear that God approved of this missionary journey, and not only promised to keep Mosiah’s sons safe during their labors, but that he would bless their efforts. More than this, as they came close to the land where the Lamanites lived, God again told them that he would make them an instrument in his hands so that they would be able to bring many souls unto salvation (Alma 17:11).
The stated reason why these sons of Mosiah had such a strong desire to go preach to the Lamanites is because “they could not bear that any human soul should perish.” But why did they feel so strongly about saving the souls of Lamanites? Their close friend, Alma, the younger, had had just as powerful a conversion as they did, then why didn’t he have this same desire? More than this, Alma’s father had been converted to Christ while he was living among the Lamanites. How come he didn’t feel the same desire to go preach to them?
But there’s a more important question we need to ask. Why did God not only allow them to go but also bless their efforts? Some would say that this is an example of where God blessed someone because their desire was righteous. In other words, the sons of Mosiah came up with this idea on their own and because God was pleased with it, he chose to bless their efforts.
However, there is another possibility, and one that is more likely.
The fact that the sons of Mosiah had to plead with their father “for many days” indicates that he was definitely against letting them go live among the Lamanites. However, when the king went to the Lord to know his will, there doesn’t seem to be any hesitation on God’s part in agreeing to his sons’ request. In fact, the Lord told Mosiah, “Let them go up, for many shall believe on their words.”
The Lord didn’t tell Mosiah that he would bless his son because of the righteousness of their desires. He stated, with certainty, that many Lamanites would believe on their words and be brought to eternal salvation. The clear implication is that this missionary journey was something God intended to happen, rather than it being in response to a request.
If that is the case, then we return to our previous question of why did the sons of Mosiah have such a strong desire to go preach to the Lamanites, when Alma the younger, nor his father had the same desire? The answer seems to be that it was God who put that desire into their hearts, and it was so strong that nothing could dissuade them from going, not even the constant denial by their father, the king. This would also explain why God was so quick to give his approval, and why he knew how successful they would be.
In fact, he later specifically told them that they would be instruments in his hands. In other words, this was going to be God’s work, not theirs. They were just the tools God was going to use to bring salvation to many of the Lamanites. And if it was God who had put the desire in their heart to go preach to the Lamanites, then this was part of his way of preparing them to be his instruments.
When we look at the story of Christopher Columbus, we find that he too was driven with an unstoppable desire to sail west to India. No matter how many times he failed to find someone to finance his journey, he never stopped trying because it had become an obsession with him. However, when we read his journals, we find that he felt he was acting as an instrument of God. Furthermore, in a vision, Nephi saw Columbus discovering America (1 Nephi 13:12), which was something that wouldn’t happen for more than a thousand years in the future. Therefore, it’s obvious that the burning desire Columbus had to sail west came from God.
In American history, we learn about the men who struggled with the way the King of England treated the colonists, and about their struggle to gain their independence We also learn how they struggled to write a Constitution. However, the Lord has revealed that he – God – raised up these men for this very purpose (D&C 101:80). What we see is that the burning desire for freedom of these American founding fathers also came from God, in preparation for using them as instruments in his hands to bring about what he had already designed to accomplish.
When Joseph Smith was only fourteen years old, he had a burning desire to know which church was teaching the correct doctrines of salvation. That thought was almost constantly on his mind, and it drove him to find an answer to his question.
What we learn from each of these incidents is that when God wants to accomplish something, he often puts the desire into the heart of those whom he chooses to accomplish what he wants done.
The reason why Alma, the younger, and his father didn’t feel the urge to go preach to the Lamanites, is because God had other plans for them. During the 1500s, there were hundreds of people who were captains of ships, but God inspired just one of them to sail west to India. During the late 1700s, there were only a relatively few number of men who were actively and passionately engaged in securing freedom for their country. Of all the people who lived in Palmyra, New York in 1820, God deliberately chose just one particular boy to restore his church.
Although Oliver Cowdry was very much involved in the work of translating the Book of Mormon, God didn’t call him to do the actual translating. Instead, God called Oliver to perform a different work than that which Joseph was called to do, which was different from the work he called Martin Harris to perform, and which was different from that of Brigham Young. What we see is that God calls certain people to perform different tasks. What one person may feel led to do may very well not be what someone else feels inspirited to do.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians explaining that God gives different gifts to different people, “dividing to every man severally as he (God) will.” Paul went on to illustrate this with the body saying “If the foot should say that because it’s not the hand, that it’s not part of the body? If the whole body was made up of an eye, how would we hear? Or if the whole body was an ear, how would we be able to smell?” Paul concluded by saying that God has given to each member of his church, those gifts or tasks that pleases him (see 1 Corinthians 12:7-18).
When God calls someone to perform a task, he often first puts the idea in their heart of what he wants them to do and when that happens, they feel almost compelled to do it. It becomes a burning desire. This is what happened with the sons of Mosiah, and what happened with Christopher Columbus and with the American Founding Fathers.
But not every burning desire comes from God. Satan and his devils also have a burning desire to thwart the work of God, and they passionately believe in their cause. One of the ways they do that is by inspiring people to become passionate about doing wrong. For example, Hitler’s desire was to bring the entire world under his control, and he was very passionate in pursuing that goal. Most monarchs firmly believe that they were divinely appointed to rule over their people.
Then how do we know if the desires of our heart are from God, from Satan, or from our own cravings? The answer can also be found in the story of the sons of Mosiah.
Instead of deciding to do what they thought was right, they first enquired of their father, who then enquired of the Lord. Later, “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” (Alma 17:9). As noted earlier, in answer to their prayers, the Lord confirmed to them that he approved of what they were doing.
The principle here is that we should seek confirmation from the Lord that what we feel inclined to do is what he wants us to do. It was Jesus who said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9), and it was Moroni who said, that if we will ask “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:4).
Christopher Columbus was a devout Catholic who prayed mightily for God’s direction and help. The American Founding Fathers were all Christians who prayed daily, seeking for divine guidance and they all acknowledged that the provident hand of God was upon their undertakings. Joseph Smith sought the Lord in prayer, “in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6).
We’re all familiar with the counsel found in Proverbs that says, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding,” but we often neglect the rest of that statement which reads, “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5,6).
Where people get in trouble is by assuming that what they think they should do is coming from God, and rather than seeking him to direct their paths, they expect God to bless whatever path they choose to pursue. This is like putting the cart before the horse, because it’s an attitude of expecting God to follow us instead of us following him.
If we consider ourselves to be followers of Christ, then we let him lead the way, and prepare the way before us. To trust in the Lord with all of our heart doesn’t mean that we trust him to bless whatever we choose to do, but rather it means to trust him to show us the way we should go. And when we have to go forward in faith, not knowing ahead of time the path we should follow, trusting the Lord means depending on him to guide our footsteps in the thoughts and actions we take.
We sing a hymn that says “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord. I’ll say what you want me to say. I’ll do what you want me to do, dear lord. I’ll be what you want me to be.” (hymn #270). Where people get in trouble is when they sing, “Please go where I want to go, dear Lord. Bless what I want to do.”
The scriptures tell us that “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 21:2). Man has the natural tendency to think that whatever idea comes to his mind is right and good, and it’s because of this very tendency that causes arguments to happen. It’s when a person is convinced that what they believe is absolutely right that when someone disagrees with them, they automatically assume that the other person’s ideas have to be wrong and feel compelled to convince them of the error of their thinking.
There is only one person who is always right all of the time, and that is God. It’s when we seek to align our thoughts with his, rather than assuming that he agrees with our thoughts, that we keep ourselves from falling into Satan’s trap.
There are countless examples of people who felt that what they were doing was the right thing, but their actions only produced horrible results. For example, the Zealot Jews believed that God had called them to lead their country to freedom from Roman rule, but instead, it brought about the destruction of the very nation they were seeking to save, and it was their actions that caused their people to be scattered throughout the world where they have been persecuted for centuries.
Late in the eighteen century, as the people of France became increasingly dissatisfied with their king, it led to what has become known as the French Revolution. It began with the idea of emulating how the American colonists freed themselves from the tyranny of King George, and their motives were noble, but it quickly got out of control and became known as the reign of terror. By the time it ended, tens of thousands of innocent people had been killed, and it paved the way for Napoleon Bonaparte to become the Emperor of France, who then plunged Europe into war. This is what can easily happen when people assume that what they want to do is what God wants them to do.
But what about the scripture that says, “Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness: for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good, they shall in nowise lose their reward. But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned” (D&C 58:27-29)?
It is a basic doctrine of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ that men are free to choose for themselves what they want to do, and God does expect us to do what is right, good, and just. In this regard, God has given us guidelines to help us know how we should act in certain situations. For example, he has told us to care for the poor and the sick, and to love our neighbor as our self. Therefore, we don’t need to ask God if we should help someone we see in need because we’ve already been told that’s what we should do.
However, to say that just because we have the power to freely act for ourselves to do good, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t seek for divine confirmation to validate that what we want to do has God’s approval. In the case of the sons of Mosiah, given the level of danger involved in embarking upon such a mission, it would have been foolhardy for them not to seek God’s consent.
In addition to this, even if what they wanted to do was a righteous desire, if it was something that conflicted with what God intended to do, then their actions would have been contrary to his will. For example, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, Peter’s action to defend the Savior with the sword was certainly a righteous act of self-sacrifice on his part, but it went against what God had planned for his Son.
The Lord has said, “if ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me” (Moroni 7:33). Since the word “expedient” means “necessary, good, or profitable,” therefore, what the Lord is saying here is that if we have faith in him, we will have the power to do whatsoever thing that God feels is necessary, good, or profitable. The clear implication is that if God doesn’t feel that what we want to do is necessary, good, or profitable then we will not have the power to do what we want, despite our faith in him.
There are many voices in the world seeking to sway us to take what they think is the right course of action, and that includes our own voice, but it’s when we follow the voice of the Spirit that we will be led to follow the right path.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Spiritual Growth