Our Signs to God
Early in the Book of Mormon is the particularly morbid story of Laban, a wealthy and powerful citizen of Jerusalem who, along with most of the Holy City’s residents, has displeased the Lord with wickedness. Lehi, an Israeli prophet, flees the city with his family as prompted by the Lord, but sends his sons back to retrieve the records of the prophets and the law from Laban.
Nephi and his other brothers make the journey and are cast out and robbed by Laban, who refuses to give up the sacred writings. It is then that the Spirit directs Nephi back into the city, where he comes across Laban, drunken and passed out in the night. It is in this moment that he is “constrained by the Spirit [to] kill Laban” (1 Nephi 4:10). Nephi shirks and doesn’t want to do it, but the Spirit continues to prompt:
“Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; Behold, the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better than one man should perish than a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief” (vv 12-13).
Ultimately, Nephi does as the Spirit directs and retrieves the records from Laban’s treasury in disguise. But while this tale has lessons about obedience to the Spirit, I want to focus on a warning: do not be that person, the one who is an obstacle in the Lord’s plans.
The Lord loves all of his children.
With that in mind, there is a scripture in the Old Testament that has always intrigued me. As the Lord is making his promises to Abraham, he mentions that Abraham’s seed would not return to the Land of Promise until four generations had passed in Egypt because “the iniquity of the Amorites [was] not yet full” (Genesis 15:16).
This is to say that the Amorites, the residents of the region that would become Israel, were not doing anything wrong to warrant eviction. Even if the Lord wanted Abraham and his seed to have the land, he couldn’t give it to them, so to speak, because the tenants at the time weren’t doing anything to deserve getting kicked out. Centuries later, the Amorites became wicked, and the militant Israelites under Moses and Joshua would take the land, but they couldn’t have done so before.
I’m not saying that bad things don’t happen to good people. The world is rife with travesties of all kinds. No one is safe from the possibility of heartache and trial. Yet if we are living our lives well, we know that the Lord will not be the one to move us. Even when life goes poorly, we will know in our hearts that God is not the cause of our difficulties, but our strength through them.
Consider all that we do a sign to the Lord.
In April 2015, the apostle Russell M. Nelson spoke on the Sabbath day, which he quoting Isaiah described as a delight for those who keep it faithfully. He asked us not to consider it a day of dos and don’ts, but rather to consider everything we do on that day a sign to the Lord in observing this sacred occasion of rest.
He asked, “What sign will [we] give to the Lord to show [our] love for Him?” I would like to generalize this question beyond Sabbath worship to everything we do. Our individual choices constitute a communication to God of where our hearts are, of what matters most to us. It is worth taking thought of what signs we are giving our Father in Heaven.
I recall recently trying to teach my cousin to snowboard. I was admittedly less than patient because it was easy for me. My muscles knew how to react to the different movements and pressures from my body, but my cousin’s did not. She had to think and try to direct her legs and feet to do things that did not come naturally, resulting in a lot of spills. But through effort and exercise of mind, she slowly improved as the movements became easier for her.
The process of deliberately considering our actions and choices can be similarly tedious and difficult, but it is important to contemplate just what they mean to God. While many choices we make are trivial, like what we want to order for lunch or whether we should watch football or a movie, we also make a significant number of meaningful ones in what we say and do, or in some cases don’t do.
Should we express something kind to a loved one this morning? How will we react to that driver who just cut us off? Will we apologize for those harsh words we said yesterday when things didn’t go well? Will we take the time to go out of our way and reach out to that friend who is having a bad week? Will we try to be nicer to that neighbor we don’t like? Will we give our family time today, or will we spend it doing things that take us away from them and isolate us?
I could go on, but my point is that many simple choices meaningfully influence our own lives and the lives of those around us. As Benjamin Franklin is quoted, “You may delay, but time will not,” or from Shakespeare, “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” Remember, above all we do are the Lord’s greater plans for his children. We can advance his goodness and make the world better both within ourselves and for those we interact with, or we can hinder it and become miniature Labans standing as obstacles in Lord’s way.
Admittedly, there is no perfect use of time or a perfect collection of the best choices. We cannot live our lives constantly obsessing over becoming superhuman. But at any given moment, there is only the choice before us; it can be as simple as that. If we consider just a little more often what sign we are giving to the Lord with that choice, and that choice alone, then we will surely become much happier as the days come and go.
That increase of joy is, after all, why we came to this earth in the first place.