From the time I was a child in the gospel learning the stories in the scriptures, I have been familiar with the characters of Laman and Lemuel and the fact that they were continually murmuring. They murmured about leaving Jerusalem, they murmured when they were asked to return to Jerusalem for the plates and they continually murmured over their afflictions and sufferings in the wilderness. Unbelievably, they immediately began murmuring within minutes of the departure of the angel who had just promised (and reminded) them that they would be successful in their mission in obtaining the plates because the Lord would deliver Laban into their hands! The scriptures make it obvious that this was a strong character trait of these two older brothers. I think the only time they did not murmur was when they were asked to go back to Jerusalem and get some wives. Alas, the peace was short lived for as soon as they had their women and were returning to their father’s camp, they started up again.
During one of my recent early morning study sessions I was struck by a particular verse about murmuring. The one that probably gets passed right over as we are rolling right into the famous words of Nephi when he says, “I will go and do…”. The verse is 1 Nephi 3:6 where Lehi counsels his son, “Therefore go, my son, and thou shalt be favored of the Lord, because thou hast not murmured.” Nephi didn’t just murmur more quietly than his brothers or less than his brothers did. Even when they were in the midst of a massive maritime storm and his brothers had finally released him after binding him with cords for multiple days, tightly enough that he could not move and his wrists and ankles were swollen and sore; He DID NOT murmur. At all. Instead, he praised God.
This is a trait of the Savior. In Hymn #230 the words say,
Although in agony he hung
No murmuring word escaped his tongue.
His high commission to fulfill
He magnified his Father’s will.
So what’s the big deal about a little murmuring here and there? Are there blessings I may be missing out on if I am murmuring once in awhile? Is there a law here upon which more blessings might be predicated?
Neal A. Maxwell defined murmuring as “a half suppressed resentment or muttered complaint”. Wow! So could all those little things I say (or think) as I begrudgingly do the thing I am murmuring about could be hurting me more than I know? Elder Maxwell gives us a picture of the character of murmurers. They “lack courage to express openly [their] concerns”, they often stir up others to negative action even though they may be “picking up no stones themselves”. Murmurers insist on the right of free speech in what they have to say but consider hostile anyone responding with opinions of their own, and they “seldom take into consideration the bearing capacity of their audience”. Not exactly character traits I desire to possess.
In the end, murmuring leads us straight to disobedience. While it feels like it starts innocently, murmuring is a slippery slope to losing the spiritual power we could have obtained through obedience. Murmuring begins with questioning, exercising our own judgement over the instruction that has been given. Second, we start to justify our why the instruction does not apply to us or why we don’t agree and we make excuses for our slothfulness. (Workman) Eventually, those who murmur will begin to pick and choose what they will follow and what they won’t and disobedience sets in. This vicious cycle can go round and round and leads to more murmuring as the murmurers “want full blessings but without full obedience” (Maxwell).
As Latter Day Saints we are often accused of following blindly. Quite the contrary. Elder Maxwell points out, “Those with deep faith don’t murmur.” Those who choose obedience over questioning and murmuring are not following blindly. They are indeed not acting without thinking for themselves. They have a deep faith in God, a power much higher than themselves. A trust that what He says is the best thing and a deep belief that His prophets are truly the spokesmen for His words and will speak truth. So what if we don’t understand something? Like Laman and Lemuel we may not understand “the dealings of that God who had created [us]” (2 Nephi 2:12) We would be wise to question ourselves as Nephi questioned his brothers: “Have you inquired of the Lord?” (1 Nephi 15:8). We can pray with a sincere heart to know the truth of all things and are promised this knowledge through the power of the Holy Ghost. When our minds have questions, we can receive our own confirmation for instructions we don’t understand or may not agree with at first. When we choose look up for our answers rather than murmuring about our own understanding we open the way for further light and knowledge and for the windows of heaven to pour out the blessings promised. As Neal A. Maxwell so eloquently stated, “If our lips are closed to murmuring then our eyes can be opened.” We are told there will be hard times ahead. I think this lesson was a warning for me that no matter what happens, I need to be consciously aware of my thoughts and words and remember to always rely on and trust in the Lord. Hard times or not, my desire is to be “favored of the Lord” just as Nephi was.
“Murmur Not”, Neal A. Maxwell, General Conference October 1989
“Beware of Murmuring”, H. Ross Workman, General Conference October 2001