Challenges of mortality
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The fourth chapter of Second Nephi finds the prophet Nephi at a pivotal crossroad in his life.
More than a decade has passed since his family fled Jerusalem. They have suffered hardships in the wilderness, endured physical and spiritual trials and have been guided by the Lord's hand to a new world and new possibilities.
Now, as we read in 2 Nephi 4, Nephi is once again facing heavy challenges. His prophet-father Lehi is dead. His elder brothers Laman and Lemuel are angry at him after he admonished them to change their wicked ways. They have even conspired to take his life.
But at this moment of tremendous personal and family turmoil, Nephi again reveals his true self. He again proves to be an obedient, trusting child of God, writing "the things of [his] soul" in a collection of verses (2 Nephi 4:15-35) that have been aptly called "the psalm of Nephi."
Nephi's psalm makes for first-rate poetry and can be counted among the most lyrically beautiful writings in all scripture. Scholars recommend that it be read out loud to best appreciate its lovely cadence. But the pleasure of reciting Nephi's psalm reaches beyond the aesthetic. Powerful, contemporary teachings are revealed in each and every verse.
First, Nephi testifies of the written word of God, saying, "For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.
"Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord" (vv. 15-16).
As the psalm continues, readers of the Book of Mormon are reminded that Nephi was a mortal man — vulnerable to sin and temptation. We recognize in him our own weaknesses. Like each of us, this great prophet fell short of perfection. Like each of us, his salvation required a Redeemer.
"O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
"I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me" (vv. 17-18). But even as Nephi's heart "groaneth because of my sin" he found strength in the Lord "in whom I have trusted."
The next several verses could be called Nephi's carol to his King:
"My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.
"He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
"He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.
"Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the nighttime."
Nephi concludes his psalm with a joyful testimony of prayer and gratitude for God's mercy and compassion, declaring: "Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul" (v. 28).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve said all who struggle with the challenges of mortality can identify with Nephi's lamentation of his shortcomings.
"To have the will and strength to resist sin, we must trust in God and pray for his help. Nephi rejoiced in the Lord, who had supported him and led him through his afflictions. 'Why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh?' Nephi asked, (v. 27) adding a prayer that the Lord would redeem his soul and 'make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin' (v. 31).
"Nephi concludes with words that apply directly to those who seek to find their way through difficulties:
"O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.
"Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh."
In a First Presidency Message published in the March 2009 issue of the Ensign, President Thomas S. Monson acknowledged that we, as Nephi, live in troubled times. Peace — as celebrated in Nephi's psalm — can be realized only through faithful supplication.
"Our prayer must be offered in faith, nothing wavering," President Monson wrote.
"It was by faith, nothing wavering, that the brother of Jared saw the finger of God touch the stones in response to his plea.
"It was by faith, nothing wavering, that Noah erected an ark in obedience to the command from God.
"It was by faith, nothing wavering, that Abraham was willing to offer up his beloved Isaac as a sacrifice.
"It was by faith, nothing wavering, that Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.
"It was by faith, nothing wavering, that Joshua and his followers brought the walls of Jericho tumbling down.
"It was by faith, nothing wavering, that Joseph saw God our Eternal Father and Jesus Christ, His Son.
"Now, the skeptic may say that these mighty accounts of faith occurred long ago, that times have changed.
"Have times really changed? Don't we today, as always, love our children and want them to live righteously? Don't we today, as always, need God's divine, protecting care? Don't we today, as always, continue to be at His mercy and in His debt for the very life He has given us?
"Times have not really changed. Prayer continues to provide power — spiritual power. Prayer continues to provide peace — spiritual peace."