I was recently reading 1 Nephi 17 with my children. We were reading about all the things Nephi did in order to build the ship for him and his family to travel to the promised land (find ore, make bellows and fire, make tools, build the ship). My six year old son Jonah asked rationally, “Why didn’t God just build the ship and drop it down into the water?” Jonah acted the scene out with his hands; a tone of wonder in his voice and a grin on his face as he imagine the boat descending from heaven.
While it may seem naive in the context of Nephi and his boat, I thought his question was illustrative of how believers often think when faced with life challenges. Clearly Jonah understands God’s omnipotence. God could build a boat and drop it in the water, right? Yet Jonah doesn’t seem to understand finer details of God’s plan, namely that for our own growth and progression, God always asks us to do our part.
Nephi was a prime example of always doing his part. From obeying his Father’s revelation to retrieving the brass plates to building the ship, he was always anxious to do whatever he could, in faith that God would help him “accomplish the thing which he commanded him.”
This pattern is in line with the old adage to “Pray as though everything depended upon God. Work as though everything depended upon you.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles used to reference what he called the “Economy of heaven.” It seems to me that in the economy of heaven, God is not prone to doing anything we can do for ourselves.
God’s unwillingness to instantly intervene on our behalf may be frustrating to some who are faced with “building ships,” whatever they may be, in their own lives. But we need look no further than raising children to see why our Heavenly Father typically meets us only at the limits of our own reach: What happens to a child who has everything given to them and everything done for them without any effort, work, or suffering on their part? While our deep love for a child may tempt us to hand them everything in life, true parental love demands that we help our children put forth effort to achieve or we may inadvertently ruin their lives.
It is the same with our Heavenly Father. After all, how else could we hope to become like him?
In October of 2018, Elder Dale G. Renlund taught, “Our Heavenly Father wants to help and bless us, but we do not always let Him. Sometimes, we even act as if we already know everything. And we too need to do “the next bit” on our own. That is why we came to earth from a premortal, heavenly home. Our “bit” involves making choices.
Our Heavenly Father’s goal in parenting is not to have His children do what is right; it is to have His children choose to do what is right and ultimately become like Him. If He simply wanted us to be obedient, He would use immediate rewards and punishments to influence our behaviors.
But God is not interested in His children just becoming trained and obedient “pets” who will not chew on His slippers in the celestial living room. No, God wants His children to grow up spiritually and join Him in the family business.”
Another interesting case study on this subject would be Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the Gospel. Study “Saints Volume 1” and noticed how the Lord expected Joseph and the rest of the early Saints to extend to their very limits at which point he would step in and perform the miracles. The restoration was not a cheap experience; it demanded so much of those involved.
Likewise, the restoration was a messy process. Had God dropped a perfectly formed church from heaven, it would’ve been prettier. But he didn’t. He showed Joseph where to find ore, make bellows, make tools, and build the ship. Thus while a perfectly formed shipped dropping from heaven into the ocean might be a wonderful miracle, Nephi building a ship and Joseph Restoring the Church, by their faith, could actually be even more miraculous. And so will our victories be, if we have the faith like Nephi and Joseph, to give our best effort.