“Men of a Sound Understanding,” Ensign, Sept. 2008, 32–34
The scriptural account of the sons of Mosiah—Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni—being transformed from “the very vilest of sinners” (Mosiah 28:4) to “men of a sound understanding” (Alma 17:2) includes important lessons for each of us.
Following their conversion and 14 years of missionary service in separate lands, the sons of Mosiah and Alma the Younger were reunited. Alma rejoiced upon seeing that his formerly rebellious friends “were still his brethren in the Lord” and that “they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth” (Alma 17:2). In addition to describing who these remarkable men had become, Mormon describes how they had become valuable instruments in bringing the Lamanites unto repentance. He recorded that the sons of Mosiah:
“Confess[ed] all their sins” (Mosiah 27:35).
“Searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God” (Alma 17:2).
“Had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting” (Alma 17:3).
“Had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation” (Alma 17:3).
Sought for “a portion of [the] Spirit to go with them” (Alma 17:9).
“Taught with power and authority of God” (Alma 17:3).
The changes we need to make in our lives may not be as drastic as those made by the sons of Mosiah, but each of us is capable of improving our lives by increasing our commitment to the Savior, His gospel, and our fellow brothers and sisters. President Brigham Young taught that living the gospel of Jesus Christ can “make bad men good and good men better.”1
Years ago when I was called to serve as a bishop, I naively believed that I was equal to the task. I had served a full-time mission and afterward had been called to a variety of Church callings. I had taught in the Church Educational System for a number of years. I had advanced academic and clinical training in psychology and marriage and family relations. But little did I realize the challenges that lay ahead.
It took only a few days for me to realize that effectively serving as a bishop was more difficult than I had anticipated. I quickly came to understand that though I had been given the authority to serve, I wasn’t the kind of leader, teacher, father, or husband I knew the Lord wanted me to be. With all my heart I wanted to bless my family and my ward by being a man “of a sound understanding” (Alma 17:2) like the sons of Mosiah and like the many leaders and teachers who had blessed my life.
Despite working hard to serve, I began to be discouraged, feeling that I wasn’t helping my family and ward members in the ways they needed to be helped. My discouragement deepened, and my physical health declined. During these difficult days I discovered the following counsel from President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994): “Often we spend great effort in trying to increase the activity levels in our stakes. We work diligently to raise the percentages of those attending sacrament meetings. We labor to get a higher percentage of our young men on missions. We strive to improve the numbers of those marrying in the temple. All of these are commendable efforts and important to the growth of the kingdom. But when individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently, these other areas of activity will automatically come. Testimonies will increase. Commitment will be strengthened. Families will be fortified. Personal revelation will flow.”2
President Benson’s words pricked my heart and invited me to set a course that would change my life. I realized that while I might have been working hard to serve others, I hadn’t been serving in the way the Lord had intended. I felt a growing desire to study and truly immerse myself in the scriptures and to encourage my family and ward members to do the same.
The changes I was hoping for weren’t instant, but I was surprised at how quickly things began to turn around. Our sacrament meetings, priesthood and auxiliary classes, and leadership meetings came alive as we followed the examples of the sons of Mosiah and “searched the scriptures diligently, that [we] might know the word of God” (Alma 17:2). I discovered a much greater measure of the Spirit in my own life, in my relationships with my family, and in helping ward members with difficult challenges. My discouragement turned to joy, and my health problems improved dramatically.
I had previously come to love the scriptures as a missionary and as a seminary and institute teacher, but I’m not sure I had ever fully realized the great power they have to change lives—including my own. I discovered that while there was certainly value in inviting ward members to speak in sacrament meeting on topics such as honesty, friendship, patience, and kindness, there was even greater power in inviting them to teach doctrinal principles from the scriptures—doctrines such as faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Our ward leadership meetings became important discussions on how we could better help ward members study and understand the scriptures and the words of the living prophets.
I bear testimony that the scriptures, the teachings of latter-day prophets, and the influence of the Holy Ghost will assist each of us as we follow the examples of the sons of Mosiah and become men and women of “a sound understanding.” I pray that each of us will consider what we can do to more faithfully follow the example of the sons of Mosiah, who, by searching the scriptures diligently, obtained the understanding necessary to become “instrument[s] in the hands of God to bring some soul[s] to repentance” (Alma 29:9).