When God Is in the Matter (Alma 16)
In Alma 16, there is a cry of war throughout the land. The Lamanites attack the city of Ammonihah, killing many of the Nephites and carrying others captive into the wilderness. The Nephite army desires to rescue their fellow Nephites, but they don't know whether it's feasible — they don't know which way the Lamanites have gone in the wilderness, so they may not be able to catch up to them or even find them. The leaders of the army wisely decide to seek the Lord's direction:
"Knowing that Alma … had the spirit of prophecy, therefore they went unto him and desired of him to know whether the Lord would that they should go into the wilderness in search of their brethren, who had been taken captive by the Lamanites. And it came to pass that Alma inquired of the Lord concerning the matter." (Alma 16:5-6)
God then revealed to Alma the exact route that the Lamanites were taking and provided a plan for the Nephite army such that they intercepted the Lamanites and rescued the Nephites who had been kidnapped.
Quite an advantage when God is in the matter!
Does God still work the same way today? Yes, He does. But, we need to make sure that we are doing what God wants us to do rather than assuming He will automatically be in the matter just because it's something we want to do.
Notice the first question that the Nephite army asked Alma to approach God with: Do you want us to go after the Lamanites in the wilderness? Perhaps it might have seemed obvious to some — of course God wants us to rescue the people. However, perhaps God had some other plan, or perhaps there was some reason why these kidnapped Nephites needed to be going to the Lamanite city.
Regardless, it would have been pretty presumptuous for the Nephite army to just jump into its own plan and then expect God to be in the matter. If they were then unsuccessful, would they have complained that God let them down? Would they have lost their faith? All because God didn't help them with something He didn't want them to do in the first place?
The parallel to our own life is clear. If we're considering embarking on any type of venture, whether in our personal lives or in working for God, then we need to consult with Him first to see if it's His will that we move forward. If it is His will, then we can seek His further guidance as to how we can proceed and accomplish the venture.
How do we know when God is in the matter? Does silence from God constitute His support? Not really. An apparent non-response can mean any number of things. It can be a "No." It can mean that the timing isn't right, so wait and keep praying about it. It can even mean that no answer is necessary because the Lord has already provided previous guidance, either through a direct response or through the Word of God.
The only way we can really know that God is in the matter is when something happens to let us know that He is. The "something" can also vary. Perhaps we try something and get good results — that can be an indicator that God is in the matter. Perhaps God communicates His assent through an experience or in whatever way you normally hear His voice.
I would, however, express caution about taking an unclear experience or thought and running with it. Think back over your past history of receiving "direction" in this way, and see how it turned out. God doesn't make mistakes, so if we receive bad results from following what we think is God's direction, then it's possible that we may not be hearing Him correctly. For example, if the Nephite army didn't find the Lamanites in the place where God told them to go, then it would have meant that Alma got the message wrong — but of course he got it right since the Lamanites were exactly where God told Alma they would be.
When God is in the matter, we need not fear. We can move forward with confidence, knowing that the will of God will be accomplished and we will be blessed by participating in God's plan.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.