“Power in Principles,” Ensign, Jan. 2004, 10–13
A few years ago an employment opportunity prompted a family move. We traveled to the new city to find a home. After three days of searching, we were not able to find anything within our price range that would meet our needs. As father of the family, Todd became anxious because we only had one more day to find a home. Unable to sleep that night, he rose from his bed and began to search the scriptures for guidance. Feeling the need to increase his faith, he turned to Ether 12 and nervously prayed for inspiration. At length he came to the following phrase: “And I also remember that thou hast said that thou hast prepared a house for man” (Ether 12:32). Those words came powerfully to his soul. He felt reassured that the Lord would provide for us.
The next morning, while driving to check on one last new listing, we saw what appeared to be an ideal home with a “For Sale” sign in the front yard. We called the owners, and they allowed us to tour the home. We loved it and were able to purchase it.
Moroni undoubtedly did not have our family’s house-hunting trip in mind when he wrote Ether 12:32, but the Holy Spirit confirmed an application of his words that strengthened our faith in the Lord.
Great benefits come when we strive to apply Book of Mormon teachings. The Lord has commanded us to “remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon … not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written” (D&C 84:57; emphasis added). The Prophet Joseph Smith said that a person can “get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”1
We can apply the lessons of the Book of Mormon by following a simple three-part process: (1) focusing on principles and doctrines, (2) personalizing or “likening” the verses (see 1 Ne. 19:23), and (3) exercising faith in the promises.
The Lord has revealed that teaching, and therefore learning, in His kingdom should focus on the principles of His gospel (see D&C 42:12) and “the doctrine of the kingdom” (D&C 88:77). A gospel principle or doctrine has been defined by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as “an enduring truth, a law, a rule you can adopt to guide you in making decisions.”2
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has advised: “As you seek spiritual knowledge, search for principles. Carefully separate them from the detail used to explain them. Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances. A true principle makes decisions clear even under the most confusing and compelling circumstances. It is worth great effort to organize the truth we gather to simple statements of principle.”3
Gospel principles and doctrines can often be phrased using a statement of cause and effect, such as “If I do [cause], then [effect] will happen,” or “If I am _____, then I will be _____.” For example, one of the most frequently repeated principles or statements of cause and effect in the Book of Mormon is “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper” (1 Ne. 2:20). Such statements are principles with promises, or eternal and unchanging doctrines showing that God “is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever” (1 Ne. 10:18).
Book of Mormon writers often provide clues to help us find gospel principles and doctrines because they were writing specifically to us in our day. For example, Moroni said: “I speak unto you as if ye were present. … I know your doing” (Morm. 8:35). Words and phrases such as thus, therefore, because, inasmuch, thus we see, or we can behold assist us in recognizing what the moral of the story is or what the author wants us to learn. Focusing on gospel principles and doctrines helps us answer the question “Why did the author choose to include this in the book?” For example, in 1 Nephi 3:7, the phrase “for I know that …” alerts us that Nephi wants to teach us the enduring truth that the Lord will prepare a way for us to keep His commandments. Nephi then tells us the story of obtaining the plates of brass, a story that illustrates how he applied this gospel principle.
To personalize, or liken, a scriptural teaching unto ourselves, we must understand how the principle or doctrine should affect the way we think or live. When sought, the Spirit helps us see the importance of the principle and how it could be a blessing to us personally. We then can act to become more like the Savior.
Have you ever imagined yourself in the circumstances of a person in a scripture story? A young woman was recently blessed by likening a scripture to herself. It was the statement of Abinadi: “I must fulfil the commandments wherewith God has commanded me; and because I have told you the truth ye are angry with me” (Mosiah 13:4). She was inspired by his commitment to stand up for righteous values, even in the face of possible persecution. During that same week she went on a group date to see a movie. As they stood in line to buy tickets, an anxious feeling rose inside her. She knew the movie they were planning to see was not appropriate. Thinking of Abinadi, she took a deep breath and said, “I’d rather not see this movie. Could we watch something else?” An awkward silence followed. Another person then added, “I’d rather see something else too.” Because of Abinadi’s example, this young woman concluded, “I went away from the theater a better person that night.”
Have you ever tried inserting your name in place of the person in a scripture verse? For example, try inserting your name in place of ye and you in Moroni 10:27, and see if the passage does not have more immediacy. For example, “For [Jeff] shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto [Jeff]: Did I not declare my words unto [Jeff], which were written by this man?”
Writing the thoughts and impressions that come to you during your gospel study can also help you personalize the verses. You could write them in the margins of your scriptures. Or you could keep track of your thoughts by writing them on small cards and filing them by subject. Elder Scott has counseled: “You will find that as you write down precious impressions, often more will come. Also, the knowledge you gain will be available throughout your life.”4
Pray and ask for help. Prayer is a vital key to applying the scriptures. President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) said, “There is nothing more helpful than prayer to open our understanding of the scriptures.”5
Decide to try. Sometimes it may seem difficult to apply the lessons of the Book of Mormon. Living a principle or doctrine often requires a change in attitude or behavior. In the spring of 1820 a young Joseph Smith decided to apply a scripture he read in the Bible (see James 1:5). The Prophet recorded, “At length I came to the conclusion that I must … do as James directs, that is, ask of God” (JS—H 1:13). Imagine! The Restoration began when a young boy decided to apply a scripture!
President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) taught, “You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you.”6
Solve problems. As you read the Book of Mormon, think about the challenges you face at home, church, work, or in your personal life. You could describe a problem on a card and then go to the scriptures, looking for principles and doctrines that relate to that specific problem. A search of the Topical Guide or the index to the triple combination for relevant scriptures can also be very helpful.
A bishop became aware that some of the priests in his ward were struggling with pornography on the Internet. He decided to use principles from the Book of Mormon to help solve the problem. He began his lesson by asking, “Is there anything in the Book of Mormon that could help us in our personal battles against evil?” One young man pointed out that there were lots of battles in the Book of Mormon. The bishop suggested, “Let’s compare those physical battles to our spiritual battles.” Another priest suggested they could check how the Nephites prepared for battle. The quorum searched the Topical Guide under such topics as Protect, Defense, and Deliver. One chapter that particularly interested the priests was Alma 50. As they read, they began to compare Captain Moroni’s preparations for war to actions they could take to protect themselves from evil, including Internet pornography.
As we study the Book of Mormon this year in our homes and Church classes, we will have the opportunity to be not only hearers of the word but doers also (see James 1:22–24). We can apply the lessons of the Book of Mormon by focusing on principles and doctrines, personalizing the verses, and exercising faith in the promises.
“I have a vision of homes alerted, of classes alive, and of pulpits aflame with the spirit of Book of Mormon messages. … I have a vision of the whole Church getting nearer to God by abiding by the precepts of the Book of Mormon.”
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994), “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 6.