The Book of Mormon prophet Alma is experienced at interacting with people in all kinds of spiritual shape, from the most eager to learn to the toughest audiences. In Alma 31, he sets out on another mission to chasten a group of people he knew would not be pleased to see him, and would not take kindly to what he was instructed to teach them. His response in preparation to this is extremely powerful to me:
“And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” (Alma 31:5)
In this, the key point is that Alma recognized that people were more likely to change their behavior when touched by the spirit of the word of God, than by any forceful endeavors to make them change. In our most recent General Conference, President Uchtdorf also spoke about this concept, that fear is not a good way to inspire change, but rather teaching people to love the Lord will have more lasting effects on their behavior, and is better on the teacher, too. Alma shows complete confidence in the truth of the word of God to touch the hearts of those who needed it, that it would inspire behavior that would better help them and the city they were inhabiting.
President Packer famously states, “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”
These principles apply to us as well. We all do things that we wish we could be better at, where we know we are not perfect or fully striving to live specific principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are places where our behavior is not what we would have it be. I know I experience this plenty. What Alma, President Uchtdorf and President Packer teach us is that if we want to change, if we want to be better, and act more like our Savior Jesus Christ, we must start by diligently studying Him and His gospel. The better we understand the word of God and the doctrines of the gospel, the more we are converted to the truth and the easier it becomes to act in Christlike ways.
I love this principle, and I believe it simplifies many of the problems I face when it comes to my own behavior and even troubling behavior I see in those around me. The greatest force for good in the world is the word of God and the doctrine of Jesus Christ. This moving force is more powerful than anything else we could possibly bring unto our souls or unto another. I know that as we each take time to study and ponder and truly seek to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ as He intends it, we will become better disciples of Him and maybe even inspire someone along the way.