“…I Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature …”
I Nephi 2:16
I’ve been thinking lately about this scripture and why it’s important to know that Nephi was young at the beginning of the Book of Mormon. For some time I’ve felt that Nephi was called of God at a young age just like Joseph Smith was called at a young age.
As you know, Joseph Smith was just 14 years-old when, in the spring of 1820, when God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to him in the sacred grove. But did you remember that for the next three years, Joseph was left to ponder this vision without any further heavenly manifestation? This means he was 17 years old when Moroni next appeared to him in the bedroom of his home.
I imagine that when Nephi says he was “exceedingly young,” he may be telling us he was, like Joseph Smith, somewhere between 14 and 17 years old.
The more I’ve thought about this, the more I start to feel that the ages of 14-17 are critical in the lives of our youth. I believe this is when so much of the character of each young person is formed. It’s not that all the important decisions are made between 14 and 17 because I believe the MOST important decisions come between 19 and 26. (Those decisions include; Will I Go on a mission? Who will I marry? Will I marry in the temple? What should I study in college? Where should I go to college? What profession to I want to pursue? Etc.) But molding the CHARACTER to make those decisions, I believe, comes at an earlier age. The age of Joseph Smith and I believe the age of Nephi in the beginning of the Book of Mormon.
So, what does all this mean for you? I believe it means you should look to Joseph Smith and Nephi to see what they did in their early lives that prepared them to face the crucial decisions they needed to make in the days, months, and years ahead of them.
One thing you can focus on is searching for truth. Joseph Smith was a seeker of truth. When the area around Palmyra, New York, found itself in a religious upheaval in the early 1800’s, Joseph didn’t just take someone’s word for the truth - he knew if it was true, God would help him know it. Then he didn’t just wait for Heavenly Father to appear to him, he took the responsibility to find the truth. First of all he went to several of the Church meetings and revivals in order to acquaint himself with the teachings. He then turned to the scriptures. Now I suppose he read a long time before he came to the verse in James 1:5 “If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God.” Even after reading this verse he didn’t just wait for the Lord to reveal himself. He pondered on the scripture again and again and said, “Never before had a scripture penetrated the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. I pondered on it again, and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God I did.” Then he acted upon those promptings. He said, “For how to act I did not know and unless I received more wisdom from God I would never know … At length I came to the determination I must ask of God.” Then Joseph went to the grove to seek an answer. But he didn’t go into the grove unprepared. His character was formed. His heart was soft. It prepared him for the challenges he faced as the gospel was restored to the earth.
Nephi had a similar experience. He had heard his father, Lehi, speak about the things of God and the impending destruction of Jerusalem. He wanted to know if these things were true. Just like Joseph Smith did 2,400 years later, Nephi went to the Lord in prayer. He says, “… having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord.” He goes on to say, “… 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.” (I Nephi 2:16)
The character of these young prophets was built when they were young. As I mentioned earlier, I believe they were somewhere between 14 and 17 years old. So, you young people, you parents who have children of this age, you grandparents who have grandchildren who will someday be this age … I believe this is the age where the most important spiritual character is developed and built. I believe this is the age where daily scripture study, daily personal prayer, and the daily influence of the spirit will have the greatest effect in the years to come. Don’t think that you can start being aware of spiritual things when you go on a mission or when you go away to school or when you get married. NOW is the time to develop your spiritual character.
I believe Nephi did it this way … I believe Joseph Smith did it this way … I believe each of you will be blessed as you do it this same way. Now I challenge each of you to mold your spiritual character as early in your life as you can.