I have been reading the Book of Mormon on nearly a daily basis for several years. My husband and I read a chapter together each night. When we get to the end of Moroni, we begin again at 1 Nephi. It is a relief to make that transition from the complete destruction of the Nephite and the Jaredite nations, to the familiar words: “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents…” It reminds me of the simplicity of life when I was a child compared to the complexity of our current events: wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes in divers places, the worldwide pandemic of fear, hate, mob mentality, the widespread absence of civility in humanity, and, for many, the loss of hope that things will ever get better.
I have been pondering the idea of “reading” the Book of Mormon vs. actually “studying” the Book of Mormon. I even looked up the difference between the two terms. Turns out, reading involves “going through a particular topic to gather information from it.” Studying is “a process where complete devotion of time and energy is dedicated to understand a concept within a topic/subject.
Another component I’ve learned about is the importance of having a goal in mind when you are studying rather than just passively perusing the content. So how would I have a “goal” in mind when I study the Book of Mormon? Let me explain how I learned about that this past week.
Just as many of you may be experiencing, our Sunday worship during the shutdown due to the pandemic includes an online Zoom meeting for our little branch. We spend an hour going through the current Come, Follow Me lesson and sharing various insights of what we read/studied. Typically, the teacher or facilitator of that meeting rotates between the members.
Last week I was invited to be the teacher/facilitator. We were in the lesson covering Alma 53-63 which is referred to as part of the “war chapters.” I have noticed that when I’m asked to lead a discussion, I have motivation to study the lesson rather than simply reading it. The first thing that came to my mind when I saw that it was the war chapters was the memory of a talk given years ago by John Bytheway at Education Week called Righteous Warriors: Lessons from the War Chapters. (He has since published a book with the same title.)
I listened to his talk with great interest as he focused on that subject. I found myself pausing the video and jotting down notes. At the end of the talk, he challenged everyone to begin our own study where he left off, specifically Alma 53-62, which was the lesson for this past Sunday. He challenged us to find other lessons that he didn’t have time to cover in his talk. That challenge gave me a “goal” to focus on as I studied… “What lesson am I seeing in this portion of the scriptures?” By the time I got through with my studying, I had highlighted portions that spoke to me about various lessons. Then when I finished the reading, I went back and started writing the lesson I saw there and whether it was spiritual or temporal. Seven typewritten pages later, I was amazed at what I had gleaned because I had a specific goal.
We’ve been taught that the Book of Mormon was not written for the Nephites and Lamanites. In fact, it didn’t become available for hundreds of years after the writing occurred.
When my husband and I first moved into our branch over 16 years ago, I was asked to be the Gospel Doctrine teacher, and that calling lasted for 11 years. (The Lord knew I would need time to focus on studying instead of just reading.) During that time, something that I had never before put together came into my mind like a lightbulb going off. For many years, Sunday School has had a four-year rotation between studying the Old Testament one year, the New Testament the next, the Book of Mormon the next, and the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price for the fourth year. So what struck me was that every year we are studying the Book of Mormon is the year that in the United States we elect a president. Every fourth year! I don’t believe that is a coincidence! My curiosity invited me to take a look at where we are in the lesson plan during the months leading up to the actual election. We are in the “war chapters.” The week of the actual election, we cover the nine chapters in Mormon which is all about the final destruction of the Nephite nation.
We know that Mormon abridged the Book of Mormon from records that had been kept by the Nephites for hundreds of years. We understand that the Lord directed Mormon to put specific things in that abridgment for a specific purpose.
Could it be that these war chapters are our primer for the season we are currently experiencing? (A primer refers to any book that presents the most basic elements of any subject.) They are a key to what we must know and what we must know how to do in order to successfully navigate in the season leading up to the Second Coming of the Savior. More importantly, it is the primer for who we must become in order to be useful instruments in the hands of the Lord in this season. It’s not enough to read these things. We are to allow the Spirit to infuse them into our very being and allow them to inform our every step on the journey ahead of us.
There are spiritual lessons and temporal lessons in these chapters that we are to use to measure our spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical preparation for the events leading up to the return of the Savior to the earth.
In the past few years, the Church has launched the self-reliance initiative where we have the opportunity to go through a 12-week course of study (not reading!) about how we can improve our lives and become self-sufficient in these four areas:
- Personal Finances
- Starting and Growing My business
- Education for Better Work
- Finding a Better Job
Most recently, another area of study is focusing on “Emotional Resilience.” Can you imagine the importance of us strengthening our capacity for emotional resilience in our lives to be able to withstand the confusion that is swirling around us?
Eight months ago, none of us could have predicted the changes that would be happening in our world, our country, our state, our communities, our homes. Added to that, we are having earthquakes in divers places, firestorms, hurricanes, tornados, etc. Many people are in an emotional overload or shutdown because their emotional resources have been depleted.
The Lord needs us to be spot on: ready to minister and serve in our communities, to “lift where we stand” to carry the burdens of those around us as we reach out in humanitarian efforts.
Pondering all these various components of our current reality, I was highly motivated to comb through Alma 53-63 and pray for the Spirit to be with me as I sought to identify the spiritual and temporal lessons available there that would give me a guideline for assessing my readiness to lift where I stand. The words were all familiar to me, yet I had never put them together using the lens of “What was the lifesaving message the Lord instructed Mormon to leave with us?”
Seven typewritten pages later, I am certain that I didn’t find all the lessons. When it is time and we are ready, the Spirit will open the eyes of our understanding as we strive to be prepared to serve in the winding-up scenes of this dispensation. There are spiritual and temporal lessons in last week’s lesson that we are able to use to measure our spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical preparation for the events leading up to the return of the Savior to the earth.
Three quotes that come to my mind that he has said recently:
To the sisters of the Church: “We need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices.”
To the Church’s general membership: “In coming days it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the … constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”
To the general membership: “Let me be very clear about this. If the world loses the moral rectitude of its women, the world will never recover.”
I am discovering that I have spent most of my life scratching at the surface of the value of the Book of Mormon. This past week has taught me that I need to dig deep, with a goal in mind, to unearth the treasure trove of wisdom and instruction that is to be found there. Now I pray for Spirit to bring to my mind a question that I want to find the answer(s) to as I study so that I might be more intentional and focused in my efforts.
I challenge you listen to John Bytheway’s talk and then go through Alma 53-63 and discover your insights of the lessons that are held there. I will include the ones I found here (click the link to download the PDF): Spiritual and Temporal Lessons from the War Chapters. I am certain there are more that I haven’t yet comprehended!
Sonja lives with her husband, Dale, on Anderson Island, Washington. She and her husband are Church Service Missionaries serving in the Addiction Recovery Program, focusing on pornography and sex addiction. She is also a certified life coach and teaches "Life Skills for Emotional Self-Mastery" in her stake twice a month. She does not teach you only to process something traumatic done to you in the past; rather, she helps you learn to feel it, heal it, and LET GO of whatever you still do to yourself and to others in order to cope with what was done to you in the past.