(read this chapter here)
This is a great chapter. In it, Nephi discovers that his brothers are arguing over the vision that Lehi had and the things he told them. Nephi points out that the things Lehi told Laman and Lemuel were great, and could be understood if they opened their hearts and asked of the Lord.
Keep in mind that Nephi had just seen his vision in which their descendants fall away, and the pain he was experiencing from that knowledge must have still been quite raw. What impresses me is that Nephi didn't give up trying to get Laman and Lemuel to truly understand. He didn't stop explaining things to them, didn't stop loving them, and didn't stop ecouraging them to soften their hearts. It would have been easy to give up on them. But, I think we can all agree that Nephi doesn't take the path of least resistance.
I love the way Nephi describes this:
v. 25: "Wherefore, I, Nephi, did exhort them to give heed unto the word of the Lord; yea, I did exhort them with all the faculty which I posessed, that they would give heed to the word of God and remember to keep his commandments always and in all things."
So, how can we be less like Laman and Lemuel and more like Nephi? I think we have a pretty good outline of what not to do in verse 11:
1) They have hardened their hearts
2) They haven't asked the Lord in faith, believing that they will receive an answer
3) They have not had diligence in keeping the commandments--not perfection, but diligence.
These are the things I would like to address today.
1) Hardened Hearts.
What is is that makes a heart hardened in the first place? Elder Gerald N. Lund gave a wonderful talk on this during April 2008 General Conference. I think it is my favorite of that session. He says:
"The heart is a tender place. It is sensitive to many influences, both positive and negative. It can be hurt by others. It can be deadened by sin. It can be softened by love.
"The Lord noted three natural consequences of having one’s heart set on the things of the world: First, we seek to hide our sins instead of repenting of them. Next, we seek to gratify our pride and vain ambitions rather than seeking the things of God. Finally, we begin to exercise unrighteous dominion over others.(D&C 121:36-37)
"Note that pride is a natural consequence of setting our hearts on the things of the world. Pride quickly desensitizes our hearts to spiritual promptings."
And, this is my favorite point that Elder Lund made in his talk:
"Nephi taught, “When a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.”11 Elder David A. Bednar noted the use of the word unto: “Please notice how the power of the Spirit carries the message unto but not necessarily into the heart."
He goes on to emphasize that our agency is so sacred, Heavenly Father will never force the human heart, though man might try.
(read the rest of the talk here)
Helaman talks about what happens when hearts are hardened:
6 Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath acreated them, should brule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at cnaught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.
I think this describes Laman and Lemuel perfectly. They did not desire to submit to Heavenly Father and His teachings. They have a God-given desire to make decisions (that comes with agency), but they allow the "natural man" to overpower with them and set their sights on things that are not of eternal value.
What can we learn from this? I think we learn that in order to have a softened heart, we need to practice being close to the spirit and recognizing when the Lord is teaching us through the Holy Ghost. Elder Packer says,
"As an Apostle I listen now to the same inspiration, coming from the same source, in the same wa, that I listened to as a boy. The signal is much clearer now. . .
No message is repeated more times in scripture than the simple thought, 'Ask and ye shall receive' " (Ensign Nov. 1979, p. 21)
I think sometimes we imagine that the Apostles are always witness to great and magnificent divine events to receive their inspiration. They have been witness to some glorious things--that is part of their mission. However, they have had to practice being sensitive to the spirit, having open hearts, and recognizing the Holy Ghost. (And this talk was given 30 years ago! Imagine how much better he is even now.)
So, what are the ways you recognize the spirit? What does inspiration feel like to you? How do you recognize what is right? How do you know when your heart is softened? I'll put my answer down below in the comments. I think it is valuable to write down (somewhere; it doesn't have to be here) what spiritual manifestations feel like to us personally. It helps us recognize them more often, which helps us keep our hearts opened to more inspiration. If you would like, leave a comment about how you feel when you are feeling the spirit. We would love to hear!