“Seek Not to Counsel the Lord,” Ensign, Aug. 1985, 2
The great Book of Mormon prophet Jacob pointedly counseled us who live in the latter-days to “seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand.” (Jacob 4:10.)
In my view, seeking to counsel the Lord generally means disregarding the Lord’s counsel, either knowingly or unknowingly, and in place thereof substituting our own counsel or the persuasions of men. Doing this is a very common human weakness. But until we are able to conquer it, real closeness to the Spirit of the Lord eludes us regardless of our other gifts and attainments.
On the other hand, when a person learns what the Lord’s counsel is and follows it, he irresistibly draws close to the Spirit. From its very beginning, the history of God’s dealings with his children on the earth testifies to the fact that those who disregard his counsel fail and come to grief.
In the days of Samuel, for example, Israel clamored for a king. “Make us a king,” they cried, “to judge us like all the nations.” (1 Sam. 8:5.) They thought it was more important to be like the people around them, the heathen nations, than it was to follow the counsel of the Lord. Through Samuel, the Lord solemnly protested, saying:
“This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons … for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; …
“He will take your daughters to be … cooks, and to be bakers.
“And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards. …
“And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards. …
“And ye shall be his servants. …
“Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
“That we also may be like all the nations.” (1 Sam. 8:11–20.)
Samuel mourned over the obstinacy of his people, for he knew that if in defiance of the counsel of the Lord they persisted in their demand for a king, it would mean their downfall. But the Lord, always respectful of man’s agency, whether he wants to do right or whether he wants to do wrong, said to Samuel:
“Hearken unto the voice of the people … for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (1 Sam. 8:7.)
As we know, Israel got their king. In a few generations their kingdom was divided, the people were taken captive, Israel was scattered, and Judah became a hiss and a byword throughout the nations.
A second example of how disregarding the Lord’s counsel brings grief comes from the life of Saul, Israel’s first king. Through Samuel, the Lord instructed Saul to destroy the animals of the Amalekites. However, Saul chose to spare the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings, and lambs. Later, when Samuel came, Saul went out to meet him and with sly hypocrisy said, “Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” (1 Sam. 15:13.) Samuel’s reply, “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” was notice to Saul that Samuel was not deceived. (1 Sam. 15:14.) Perhaps squirming a bit, Saul answered with a little less confidence: “The people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.” (1 Sam. 15:15.)
Then Samuel, with directness, said unto Saul: “The Lord sent thee on a journey. …
“Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the Lord?” (1 Sam. 15:18–19.)
Saul was caught. However, he tried to shift the blame to his people by saying to Samuel:
“Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. …
“But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God.” (1 Sam. 15:20–21; italics added.)
Then Samuel put to Saul a soul-searching question, one which is of equal importance in our day:
“Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
“For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” (1 Sam. 15:22–23.)
When we resist the counsel of the Lord, we manifest stubbornness and rejection of his inspired guidance.
Fortunately, the Lord loves us and is willing to help us learn to take “counsel from his hand” if we sincerely desire to be a follower of righteousness. This is one of the lessons we learn from a familiar experience in the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith. At the urgent importuning of Martin Harris, the Prophet three times sought the Lord’s consent to let Martin Harris show the 116 manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon translation to some of his friends. Twice the answer was no. Finally, however, consent was given. Nearly three weeks later, Joseph Smith’s fears that they were lost were confirmed by Martin Harris at the home of the Prophet’s parents in Palmyra, where Joseph in great anxiety had gone to discover the reason for Martin’s delay in returning the manuscript. The Prophet’s mother wrote that Joseph, Hyrum, and Martin Harris were at the dinner table:
“He [Harris] took up his knife and fork as if he were going to use them, but immediately dropped them. Hyrum, observing this, said ‘Martin, why do you not eat; are you sick?’ Upon which Mr. Harris pressed his hands upon his temples, and cried out in a tone of deep anguish, ‘Oh, I have lost my soul! I have lost my soul.’
“Joseph, who had not expressed his fears till now, sprang from the table, exclaiming, ‘Martin, have you lost that manuscript? Have you broken your oath, and brought down condemnation upon my head as well as your own?’
“‘Yes; it is gone,’ replied Martin, ‘and I know not where.’ …
“‘Then must I,’ said Joseph, ‘return with such a tale as this? I dare not do it. And how shall I appear before the Lord? Of what rebuke am I not worthy from the angel of the Most High?’
“I besought him not to mourn so, …” continues his mother. “But what could I do to comfort him, when he saw all the family in the same situation of mind as himself; for sobs and groans, and the most bitter lamentations filled the house. However, Joseph was more distressed than the rest, as he better understood the consequences of disobedience. And he continued pacing back and forth, meantime weeping and grieving, until about sunset, when, by persuasion, he took a little nourishment.
“The next morning, he set out for home. We parted with heavy hearts, for it now appeared that all which we had so fondly anticipated, and which had been the source of so much secret gratification, had in a moment fled, and fled forever.” (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith, ed. Preston Nibley, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954, pp. 128–29.)
In consequence of his having wearied the Lord in asking for the privilege of letting Martin Harris take the writings, the Urim and Thummim was taken from the Prophet, as were also the plates and his gift to translate them.
However, after the 22-year-old Joseph humbled himself through sincere repentance, he regained his former station. In a revelation concerning these events, the young prophet was reprimanded for yielding to the “persuasions of men” and told that he should not have feared man more than God. He was also given assurance that if he had “been faithful,” the Lord would have “extended his arm and supported [him] against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and … would have been with [him] in every time of trouble.” (See D&C 3:6–8.)
The Prophet Joseph never forgot the central lesson of this experience. Having regained the favor of the Lord, he continued and completed his mission as the mighty prophet of the Restoration. We need to learn this great lesson also. We need to so condition ourselves that we abide by the guidance and counsel that we have received from the Lord through his prophets.
Lehi, in counseling his son Jacob, makes a very challenging statement: “All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.” (2 Ne. 2:24.) If I interpret this statement correctly, it means that one’s wisdom is proportionate to his knowledge. This being so, how insignificant is the wisdom of man, which is based upon his limited mortal experience, when compared with the wisdom of God, which is based upon his knowledge of all things.
Paul must have had this contrast in mind when he queried the Corinthians:
“Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?”
And then he added: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor. 1:20, 25.)
Now I do not think that many members of the Church consciously urge the persuasions of men or their own counsel instead of heeding the Lord’s. However, when we do not keep ourselves advised as to what the counsel of the Lord is, we are prone to substitute our own counsel for His. As a matter of fact, there is nothing else we can do but follow our own counsel when we do not know the Lord’s instructions.
On at least two counts, the very spirit of our times is conducive to inadequate knowledge of the Lord’s counsel. First, ours is a day of specialization. Our science, our industry, our professions are all so complex and specialized that each of us is under heavy pressure to learn more and more about his own narrow field. Few, it seems, are expected to have a broad knowledge and a sound understanding of the whole area of which their specialties are but a part. Second, our age is traveling at an unprecedented and dizzy pace that is constantly being accelerated. The world and its ills crowd upon us through our media, our technology, and our life-style until we eat and sleep, rest and work, travel and wait with schedule in hand, always at top speed, and through it all we find little time to search out the counsel of the Lord.
The remedy is to be had in complying with the Lord’s counsel to “let the solemnities of eternity rest upon [our] minds.” (D&C 43:34.) If we will be obedient to the Lord’s counsel to study the scriptures, the solemnities of eternity will indeed rest upon our minds. We will turn to the Lord in righteousness in our prayers, in our scripture study, and in our family discussions. Further, we can be informed as to the counsel of the Lord with respect to each of our assignments. For we are not, like the world, left in the dark without a rudder, to be ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. We know with certainty where the counsel of the Lord is to be found: (1) in the written word of the Lord, the scriptures; (2) in the counsel of the living prophets; and (3) through personal inspiration and revelation to each of us for guidance within the scope of our own assignments or circumstances. Drinking deeply from these springs of living water will bless each member of the Church. Don’t let yourselves be too busy or too tired to so drink. The added strength, wisdom, and inspiration which comes therefrom will repay your efforts a thousandfold.
May we follow the formula pursued by the sons of Mosiah, who started out with the same native endowments possessed by each of us—namely, with good desires, and a call to labor in the Master’s service. Concerning them the record says:
“And now it came to pass that as Alma was journeying … he met … the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla.
“Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
“But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” (Alma 17:1–3; italics added.)
May it be so with each of us, and may each of us seek not to counsel the Lord, but to “take counsel from his hand” by searching the “scriptures diligently, that [we] might know the word of God” and apply it in our lives.
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussions:
1. Seeking to counsel the Lord generally means disregarding the Lord’s counsel, either knowingly or unknowingly, and substituting our own counsel or the persuasions of men.
2. The spirit of our times is conducive to inadequate knowledge of the Lord’s counsel because we tend to learn more and more about narrower fields and do not have sound understanding of a broad range of knowledge. Furthermore, the media, technology, and the life-style of our age push us dizzily through life and distract us from searching out the counsel of the Lord.
3. We must turn to the Lord in our prayers, our scripture study, and our family discussions to learn his counsel.
4. We know for a certainty that the counsel of the Lord is found in the scriptures, in the counsel of the living prophets, and through personal inspiration to each of us.
1. Relate your personal feelings about knowing and following the counsel of the Lord. Ask family members to share their feelings.
2. Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the bishop or quorum leader?