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Because Ye Ask Not

13 June 2015

What made Nephi different than Laman and Lemuel? Other than the fact that in all the Arnold Friberg paintings, Nephi's eldest brethren look like Islamic terrorists, of course. 

The answer is in the very beginning of the Book of Mormon. Lehi comes to his family and says, "God's going to destroy this place, so we're heading out." Nephi records:
Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father. And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them. Neither did they believe... And they were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem, who sought to take away the life of my father...
[But I I had] great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers (1 Ne. 2:12, 16).
The key is that although Nephi probably harbored the same concerns and doubts that Laman and Lemuel did, Nephi asked God for confirmation, while Laman and Lemuel jumped to their own conclusions.

Look a few pages later at the beginning of 1 Nephi 15. Lehi has had another vision. Again Nephi doesn't understand, so again he goes to ask God what the dream means. In response, he is given an extended vision of his own-- in fact, it's even more detailed than the one his father had seen. He also receives the vision that is currently written in the modern Bible as the Revelation of St. John, as well as witnessing the whole history (and eventual destruction) of his descendants.

After this incredible experience, Nephi comes down from the mountain and sees his brothers involved in their favorite pastime: arguing. The seeds of contention that Nephi has just seen would one day all but wipe his civilization from off the face of the earth are being sown right in front of his face.

Reading between the lines a bit, it seems at this point he leaves his bickering brothers, and goes into his tent and takes a nap (always a good idea). After he had "received strength," he goes to his brethren asking, "What are you guys fighting about this time?"

He finds that they are "disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them." And are they disputing? Because Lehi's dream is "hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord."

So Nephi asks them the obvious question, "Have ye inquired of the Lord?" 

Their answer is astounding: "We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us." 

That's right-- we won't ask God because we don't think God will tell us. Instead of asking, we'll just go right on theorizing and speculating and disputing thank you very much.

Like the murderous Jews whose company they had just left, Nephi's older brothers "were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness... and sought for things that they could not understand.. looking beyond the mark" (Jacob 4:14), preferring to debate their own opinions and their own ideas instead asking for the right answer from the get-go, the answer that comes from the Spirit, which "speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be... plainly" (Jacob 4:13).

Nephi was much more patient that I would have been; he only rebuked them for 2 verses. I would have wasted tons of precious plate space shouting, "You block heads! Here's a novel idea: just ask God!" Actually, that's exactly what missionaries do (without the shouting). They invite anyone and everyone to "just ask God" for the answers to life's questions. Simple. Easy. Painfully obvious.

Or maybe not. 

Here's an activity I did on my mission with members after dinner appointments:

First we'd ask them for ideas as to what they could do to become better member missionaries. They'd come up with great answers like inviting neighbors to hear the discussions, hosting a neighborhood FHE, or inviting their coworkers to their kids' baptisms, etc. All good ideas to be sure, but all a lot of work, and far outside the average member's comfort zone.

After hearing their suggestions, we'd play a game. It goes like this: "I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 100,000. You have to figure out what it is. You can ask any questions you want to figure it out. Start now."

Watching adults play this game is fun. They always assume right off the bat that only yes/no questions are allowed. Some just start guessing random numbers. Some start asking for hints about whether the number has any unique qualities or has any significance. But most settle on a tactic of greater than/less than questions.

After a few rounds of narrowing down the range (or shooting in the dark), we open the Scriptures and share these words of Christ:
"Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for he that asketh, receiveth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened" (3 Ne. 27:29).
Some members get it by this point, but most keep chugging along a few more rounds until we read this more ominous verse:
"Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark" (2 Ne. 32:4).
At this point, everyone usually gets it, and asks the obvious question, "Oh, well can I ask you what the number is?"



We would then would go on to say, "We really need God in this work. It's His work after all. And although we can do good things by our own willpower and work, it's a lot easier if we ask the right questions and get His help right from the beginning. So instead of asking you to try to plan a big missionary event in your home and worry about how to go about inviting everyone to hear the Gospel, we would like to first ask if you are praying every day for God to show you missionary opportunities already in your lives?"

The answer was almost always no.

When we say we want to be better husbands, parents, friends, or disciples of Christ, are we actually actively involving God in pursuing that desire? When we have a doctrinal concern or a question, are we asking the One who holds all the answers, "who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not?" If we want something, are we actually taking the first step and praying every single day? Wearying God about it like the importunate widow? 

I know too often my answer is a squirming no.

Which brings me to this guy:

Why was Harry Potter placed in Gryffindor? Because he asked the Sorting Hat to be placed there. For who knows how many decades in J.K. Rowling's world, first-year students had placed the singing headpiece on their heads and sat passively while it decided a good chunk of their future. Then Harry comes along and says, "You know, I'd really rather not be placed in Slytherin if that's alright with you." And the hat obliged. 

So what made Harry even think that talking to the hat was a possibility? Because he had no experience with the Wizarding world-- no older siblings or parents to put notions into his head about the way things are done. He only knew what he wanted, and saw no reason not to ask for it.

Which brings me back to that game we played on my mission with the members. We found that the game usually only works if there are no young children participating. Why? Because kids are too good at the game. Boys and girls under ten can usually solve the puzzle in about 2 seconds. Actually, many of them asked the right question before we could even finish explaining the game. 

See, kids know that when you are reliant on someone for everything in your life, you need to get used to asking for what you want or you're not likely to get it. But we adults have forgotten how this simple reliance works. We often focus so much on our self-sufficiency and own efforts that we forget to petition the aid of Him who owns the cosmos. And in so doing, we lose many blessings that could so easily be had if we would only sincerely ask for them. 

I think part of this reticence to pray like that is ingrained in us. We seem to have this idea that a real closeness with God is a blessing reserved for Apostles and Prophets. We may even consider it presumptuous to think that we mere mortals could have 2-way dialogue with God as if He were a friend with us in the room like Joseph Smith prayed. Or that we common members could forcefully wrestle with God in unshakable, persistent prayer all day and all night like Enos until we have received a witness that we are perfectly cleansed from our sins. Or that we who will achieve no greatness might possibly receive a powerful spiritual manifestation too sacred to share.

True, we have to be careful how we ask. We should not ask with ingratitude in our hearts. We should ask in faith. We should not ask for signs. We should never try to counsel God. We must do our part, to study it out first. We must have real intent, and always knowledge "Thy will be done."

But if allow timidity, apathy, or pride to prevent us from daily, humbly laying the desires of our hearts before our Father, we are living far beneath our privileges as children of God. It may seem silly, foreign, presumptuous, or maybe even just a bit too easy, but that simple attitude towards prayer is what led a boy into a grove of trees to see God. And that "full confidence in obtaining" an answer is what led an angel into his room a few years later to change the world.

I pray that I can develop that confidence.

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