CLICK HERE to read Alma 8.
Alma is now on round three of his by-location-General-Conference, the stake conference happening area by area. Since this is before the time of radio, satellite tv, or internet, he goes about speaking to each place. He first stopped in Zarahemla, and then in the last chapter he preached in Gideon (verse 1).
Then comes an important phrase in the very first verse, so important we cannot forget it.
It’s subtle, and barely there, and hard to catch – mostly because few of us are good at it.
When he was done preaching in the first two places, what did Alma do?
“He returned to his own house… to rest himself from the labors which he had performed” (verse 1).
This punches me in the gut the same way as the New Testament verses where the Savior goes off alone to rest or pray in between talks and ministry-moments (Luke 4, John 6:15, Matthew 26:36).
Even the Savior, who went above and beyond and never waited until it was convenient, consistently made the effort to take a little alone time, using it to nourish his soul with prayer and his body with rest.
One of my favorite Brigham Young quotes is this (Journal of the Discourses, Volume One):
I want it distinctly understood, that fiddling and dancing are no part of our worship. The question may be asked, What are they for, then? I answer, that my body may keep pace with my mind. My mind labors like a man logging, all the time; and this is the reason why I am fond of these pastimes—they give me a privilege to throw every thing off, and shake myself, that my body may exercise, and my mind rest. What for? To get strength, and be renewed and quickened, and enlivened, and animated, so that my mind may not wear out. Experience tells us that the most of the inhabitants of the earth wear out their bodies without wearing their minds at all, through the sufferings they endure from hard labor, with distress, poverty, and want. While on the other hand, a great portion of mankind wear out their bodies without laboring, only in anxiety. But when men are brought to labor entirely in the field of intelligence, there are few minds to be found possessing strength enough to bear all things; the mind becomes overcharged, and when this is the case, it begins to wear; upon the body, which will sink for want of the proper exercises. This is the reason why I believe in and practice what I do. The question might be asked, Why not go into the kanyons and get out wood, which would be good exercise enough? If you would know, come up to my house, you will soon find out. Were I to go to the kanyons, the whole camp of Israel would follow me there; and they would not be there long before they would say, Come, brother Brigham, I want to talk with you; come, I will chop this wood. How many scores of times I have undertaken to work, since I came into this ministry! Scores and hundreds of times when my calling in the kingdom of God was less than it is now, have I endeavored to set myself to work, but seldom could have a chance to do so more than five minutes; some one would come along, “Give me the hoe, brother Brigham, I want to talk with you ;” and so stop me, and no sooner stop me than he stops also. I have given it up, I do not intend to work any more at manual labor. I do not wrestle, or play the ball; all the exercise I do get is to dance a little, while my council room is from my office to this room, and from this room to my house again, into my sitting room, dining room, &c.
Anyone in any kind of ministry, leadership position, or helping profession understands this feeling. This is not just long work hours as many jobs and careers these days require. This is the pull of lives dependent upon you, the pressure of the spiritual lives of those that look to you for guidance, the desperation from those who wait for you to show them hope.
Alma is in this position. He has said all he knows to say, given all he has to give, and done all that has been required of him. Yet still, like Brigham, people want more. Just because he is tired at the end of the day does not mean all the needs have been met. There is always more to give, and most often there are more people needing more, taking more, than there are people nourishing him back to strength.
So he takes a moment to rest.
And that is okay.
It is good and right and as it should be.
Rest and play prevent burnout, bitterness, and apathy.
But it is not the same as being idle or quitting or giving up or abandoning the mission. When he is rested, Alma continues the work, journeying on to Melek for his next speech (verse 3). There he taught the people about the priesthood (“the holy order of God”) and by its power (verse 4). He taught them very similarly to his speeches we know from the last two cities, and the people responded as well to his message, and they were baptized (verse 5).
With that mission complete, he went on to the next city, Ammonihah (verse 6). He began to preach to them the same message as the other places (verse 8), but here “Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people… therefore they would not hearken unto the words of Alma” (verse 9).
Yet still, because part of his preparation for the ministry had included rest, Alma was able to “labor much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people” (verse 10). Alma even prays that the people would be baptized. This request is not a false pride in numbers of baptisms, but an understood sign of the people’s response to the Spirit (and thus the Lord still getting the credit, or glory for accomplishing His own purpose as promised).
This is an example of why we are to pray for all things, even when we already know it is the will of the Lord or what God wants. The Savior is the mediator, and there can be no mediating if we do not first submit our request. Our prayers are required and necessary for the Savior to be able to mediate – He cannot mediate or advocate for us with our Father-in-Heaven if we do not first submit a request.
But still, even now, the people choose to remain hard instead of soft (verse 11). They don’t listen to Alma or what he has to say. They even admit that he is the prophet, the high priest over the church, and that the church has been established all over the land. But still, they do not want to participate: “we are not of thy church, and we do not believe in such foolish traditions”.
This parallels the last days, in that all will acknowledge the Savior as King when he returns, but many will explain away the sign of His coming (returning with the city of Enoch, the city of Holiness). So even when they experience with us the unfolding of the Savior’s return, and even when they acknowledge who He is, many will still explain Him away and deny His purpose.
Likewise, they will deny His power.
Here, the people tell Alma that he has no power over them since they do not belong to his church (verse 12). They remind Alma that he gave up his political position in exchange for the ministry, so they only have to report to the government and not to Alma’s church.
But then it gets worse. They start hating, and like all haters, they get mean. They even spit on Alma, and kick him out of the city (verse 13). Clearly being unwelcome, and with his message so directly refused, Alma goes on his way towards the next city, the city of Aaron.
As he travels, he is “weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul, because of the wickedness of the people” (verse 14). He cares about the people, and he cares about the Lord. He wants to rescue the people, and he wants the Lord’s purposes accomplished. So he grieves, truly grieves, when the people do not want to do the work to be rescued.
But this is when an angel appears to him! He says:
“Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him…” (verse 15).
This emissary from the Lord gives His consistent message, which is to Arise!
In this way, Alma again “rests” in that he is nourished in his soul by receiving courage, strength, peace, encouragement, joy, and confirmation from the Lord. We can receive this same nourishment through our daily scripture studies and through our own study of the most recent General Conference talks.
The Spirit also corrects, instructs, and guides – and here Alma receives instruction. He is told to return to the city of Ammonihah, and preach to them again. He is told to warn them that they must repent or the Lord God will destroy them (verse 16). This is consistent with how the Lord has always used prophets, keeping His promise never to destroy a people without first warning them and giving them the instructions for how to escape destruction. It is a stark reminder to our own latter-days, and what we have been instructed to do and prepare for in order to escape destruction.
Why are the people of Ammonihah in danger of being destroyed?
Because they are trying to remove agency, trying to change the laws and rules so that people no longer have the ability to make choices for themselves. Removing agency, in whatever form, is always – and has always been – Lucifer’s plan, not Jehovah’s plan. Agency is required for the plan of salvation, so this is spiritual murder and the Lord will not have it.
How are they trying to remove agency?
By changing the laws “that they may destroy the liberty of thy people… contrary to the statutes, and judgments, and commandments which he has given unto his people” (verse 17).
The Lord and His covenant people, the People of Holiness, have laws according to His kingdom. He has given them, and the people have agreed to them. This has been established, and all are to live by them. Making changes is leaving the covenant, going outside the priesthood, working without authority, and leading others astray without the choice to choose the right (because it is no longer available).
As soon as Alma gets this message, and receives his instruction (and authority) to speak to the people, he returns to them right away (verse 18). For his own safety, because of the hostility when he was chased out, he goes into the city another way. As he enters, he meets a man and asks for food (verse 19). The man immediately, without question, replies:
“I know that thou art a holy prophet of God…” (verse 20). The man himself has also seen a vision in which an angel told him to receive the one asking for water (see also Genesis 24 and Mark 14/Luke 22). The man’s name is Amulek, and he feeds the Prophet (verse 21). Alma ate, was grateful, blessed Amulek and his family, and gave thanks unto God (verse 22).
Then we have it again, just in case we missed it the first time! Before starting a new phase of his work, before jumping back into the labor, before starting his assignment, Alma takes time to rest and nourish himself physically and spiritually.
“And after he had eaten and was filled…” (verse 23).
That’s amazing. It’s an example. It’s instruction. It’s why we fast before going to the Temple, but make sure we eat when we are Temple workers. It’s why missionaries give the lesson after dinner. It’s why there are snacks at Family Home Evening. It’s why Sunday lunch smells so good by the time we get home from our block of meetings. It’s why the Sabbath is a day of rest, without our normal work in the world (our spiritual work can continue, because by it we are sanctified, which does quicken us physically and spiritually).
So once he is nourished and rested and filled again, then Alma was ready to teach Amulek. Alma tells Amulek that he is a Prophet, an ordained high priest over the church (verse 23). He teaches him about his calling, and tells him the story of what happened in this city (verse 24). Then he gives his testimony of what the angel instructed him to do, and what testimony he is prepared to share with the people of this city (verse 25).
Then he does something interesting in this pattern: he thanks Amulek for feeding him, because he has been fasting (verse 26).
Well, of course anyone who has been fasting would be grateful for the food.
But it’s more than just the physical fast or the physical food.
Alma was fasting for the people of this city, praying that they would respond to the Gospel.
Amulek has responded to the Lord by his obedience to the vision.
This is a spiritual answer to Alma’s physical fast!
So Alma is released from fasting and able to eat, while it is the spiritual nourishment that he feasts upon. His gratitude is not just to Amulek for the actual food, but to the Lord for answering his prayers regarding the spiritual condition of the people in this city.
Alma stays with Amulek for many days before he began preaching unto the people, though he continues teaching Amulek (verse 27). The people of the city, in the meantime, “did wax more gross in their iniquities” (verse 28). Even though they know what needs to be done, and even though they know what they will be doing, and even though they have been preparing to fulfill that mission, it is not until the calling comes that Alma and Amulek go to the city to preach to the people:
“And the word came to Alma, saying: Go; and also say unto my servant Amulek, go forth and prophesy unto this people, saying – Repent ye, for thus saith the Lord, except ye repent I will visit this people in mine anger…” (verse 29).
And so they did. Alma and Amulek went out amongst the people, “to declare the words of God unto them; and they were filled with the Holy Ghost” (verse 30). It was the power of the Spirit, not their own power, that protected them from these violent people that had already attacked the Prophet of God. “… this was done that the Lord might show forth his power in them” (verse 31). And so Alma and Amulek were obedient unto their calling, going amongst the people “to preach and to prophesy unto the people, according to the spirit and power which the Lord had given them” (verse 32).