“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7)
These words were said by Nephi, a prophet from the Book of Mormon who journeyed from Jerusalem to the Americas with his family in about 600 BC. His father, Lehi was one of those prophets who was told to warn the people of Jerusalem of the city’s destruction if they did not repent. When the people didn’t listen, Lehi was commanded to leave with his family and make the journey to the promised land (the Americas). Throughout this journey, Nephi constantly was searching for the Lord’s guidance and direction, even when tasks seemed near impossible and improbable.
Fast forward to 1 Nephi 17. Now by this point, Nephi’s family is still in the Middle East, probably somewhere on the eastern coast (Persian Gulf) of what is present day Saudi Arabia (they had been journeying in an eastern direction for many days and nights from Jerusalem – I’m not exactly sure where they would have been since I haven’t studied geography of the scriptures, but based on what I know, it’s a good guess at where they were). In Chapter 17, Nephi has been commanded by the Lord to build a ship (not just a boat, a full on SHIP). Let me ask you this: What would YOU do if you were asked to build a ship? I personally would probably be almost immediately overwhelmed by that task, automatically going over all of the things it would take to do it and how much time, skill and tools it would require. If we’re being completely honest, I think I would have doubted my ability to do so, especially at the beginning, even with the promise of God’s help and instructions. I would have looked for other solutions and tried to do other things instead of such a huge task. I would have let my fear drive my actions instead of my faith. Eventually, though, because Heavenly Father loves me enough to keep pushing me in the direction He needs (and I need) me to go, I would have finally accepted it and worked to accomplish His will.
In Nephi’s account, his brothers (Laman and Lemuel) doubt him and actually taunt and make fun of him for even trying to do something he’s never even thought about doing before in his life. They say he’s not competent enough, that he’s not strong enough, even that he’s dumb for trying something that is so obviously impossible to accomplish on your own. Amazingly, the first thing Nephi does when he’s asked to build a ship is not to say “But Lord…. how can I do this? I don’t know anything about carpentry! I don’t even know how to BEGIN making a ship. I’d have to have all these different tools and materials. And you expect me to do this? My brothers already think I’m crazy. Why are you asking me to do this crazy thing?” Instead, Nephi’s response is more simply like this: “Alright. I’ll need tools to make a ship, but I don’t have any yet.
Where can I go to find materials to make those tools?” Maybe his mind is thinking about this elephant task he suddenly has to do, but he has completely faith. And he doesn’t even ask “Where do I even start?” He recognizes that he has to prepare himself for it and he figures out HOW to prepare. THEN he asks the Lord for help in those preparations.
In each of our lives, we often have tasks similar to building a ship – they’re huge, seemingly impossible and require a lot of preparation and strength. If we were to try to go through our lives alone, most of us would probably turn our backs on projects like that. We’d take one look at them and think “I can’t do that. Maybe someday,” “I’m not good enough to do that” or even “There’s no possible way I would EVER be able to do something like that”. However, if we turn to the Lord and recognize when He asks us to do what we think is unattainable, and then trust that He will provide a way, we can do anything.
Let’s review the first scripture I shared (1 Nephi 3:7):
“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”
At the end of that verse we learn that commandments are never given to anyone if it’s impossible for them to accomplish. Have you ever heard the saying “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle”? Well, it’s true. That doesn’t mean He expects you to do those things alone (if that were true, there would be a LOT less asked of us by Him), it just means He believes and trusts in you to do everything in your power to get it done and when that’s not enough, He believes and trusts that you will turn to Him for help to finish it. This is especially true when he specifically tells you to do something (as opposed to things in life just happening).
Let me share my experience with this chapter because I want you all to find a way to apply what this chapter has taught you in your own lives.
This past week or two, I’ve really been feeling a little (okay A LOT) overwhelmed by the enormous task of preparing for my piano recital in June. I have 50 minutes of music to learn, memorize and perfect before May 15th or thereabouts. More often than not I find myself analyzing and worrying over how impossible this task feels instead of focusing on why I’m doing it in the first place. At the beginning of the week, I decided to get a Priesthood blessing… Except I never actually asked anyone for one because I didn’t know who to ask (blessings are extremely important and sacred to me, so I generally am prayerful about who I ask). The whole week went by without me finding anyone to ask. Then yesterday, I found exactly what I needed.
I went to the temple with my ward and decided to do an ordinance called an initiatory for my ancestors (an initiatory is basically a preparatory washing that happens before making additional covenants with the Lord, similar to the preceding ordinances of Baptism and Confirmation). I had actually planned on doing something else instead of initiatories, but thankfully, another girl in my ward offered to do initiatories. I firmly believe that was a prompting from God to help me get what I was in need of this week. Going to the temple, I actually hadn’t thought much about what I was in need of, so I wasn’t actually searching for any answer in particular. As I was waiting in line for initiatories, I flipped a Book of Mormon open to a completely random page. It was 1 Nephi 17. I knew it was a good chapter, so I happily began to read. Lately I’ve been working to actually think about what I read from the scriptures instead of just reading it, so when I came across verses 17-18, I thought a little harder about what kind of attitude I generally have when hard tasks come into my life. Those verses say:
“And when my brethren saw that I was about to build a ship, they began to murmur against me, saying: Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters. And thus my brethren did complain against me, and were desirous that they might not labor, for they did not believe that I could build a ship; neither would they believe that I was instructed of the Lord.”
That last line “neither would they believe that I was instructed of the Lord” is what struck me in a different way and got me thinking about my elephant of a task I currently have to accomplish by June 3. I asked myself these questions “How am I acting – like Laman and Lemuel, or like Nephi? Am I complaining? Am I working as hard as I need to in order to do this and do it well? Do I believe I can do this? More importantly, does the Lord believe I can do this?” More questions came and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, though I may have times where I’m like Nephi, more often than not I have thoughts similar to those of Laman and Lemuel. I forget what strength I have and I forget where my talent comes from – I forget that I’m not doing this alone.
At least once a week, I have it confirmed to me once more that the reason I’m doing this is because the Lord has instructed me to further my musical talents in order to better serve the people in my life. Every time that confirmation comes, I have to remember that because the Lord has asked it of me, He will also provide a way for me to accomplish it.
Nephi continues to share how his brothers murmured in verses 19-21. As you read this, I’d like for you to think about how closely this comes to your own thoughts whenever you doubt or stress over things that have brought you to where you are today:
“And now it came to pass that I, Nephi, was exceedingly sorrowful because of the hardness of their hearts; and now when they saw that I began to be sorrowful they were glad in their hearts, insomuch that they did rejoice over me, saying: We knew that ye could not construct a ship, for we knew that ye were lacking in judgment; wherefore, thou canst not accomplish so great a work. And thou art like unto our father, led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart; yea, he hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions. Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy.”
Nephi’s response to his brothers is this (verses 23-26, 50-51)
“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, spake unto them, saying: Do ye believe that our fathers, who were the children of Israel, would have been led away out of the hands of the Egyptians if they had not hearkened unto the words of the Lord? Yea, do ye suppose that they would have been led out of bondage, if the Lord had not commanded Moses that he should lead them out of bondage? Now ye know that the children of Israel were in bondage; and ye know that they were laden with tasks, which were grievous to be borne; wherefore, ye know that it must needs be a good thing for them, that they should be brought out of bondage. Now ye know that Moses was commanded of the Lord to do that great work; and ye know that by his word the waters of the Red Sea were divided hither and thither, and they passed through on dry ground.
“And I said unto them: If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done. And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?”
I testify to you that God doesn’t ask us to do difficult things that are impossible for us to accomplish. He doesn’t ask us to do difficult things to make us miserable. God is our loving Heavenly Father who only gives us hard things to do because He knows that it’s the best way for us to be pushed to our limits. Without being pushed to our limits, we can’t grow and progress. Without widening our limited boundaries, we can’t continue to learn of Him, trust in Him, and become like Him. I testify of the love and wisdom of God as He guides our lives in ways that we often don’t understand in the moment, but which we are often grateful for once we realize what He’s done and continues to do for us. And I testify that whatever difficult things the Lord asks of you, if you trust in Him and allow Him to strengthen you, blessings will poured out upon you in ways you never imagined before.
I encourage you to study this chapter and other scriptures so that you can learn and understand more about what the Lord would have and is having you do in your lives. He won’t leave you to figure things out and do all alone. He loves you, knows you and believes that you can do whatever task He throws in your direction if you are but willing to love and believe in Him, too. I promise you that without any doubt in my mind and say this in the name of our beloved Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.