41 And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.
(1 Nephi 17:41)
Seemingly simple actions can lead to miraculous results. It’s human nature to ignore things that seem ordinary and to focus on things that are bold, dramatic, or unusual. But as Nephi teaches his brothers in the passage above, we ignore the simple commandments of God at our peril.
On one occasion, when the children of Israel were complaining about their uncomfortable circumstances as they traveled from slavery in Egypt to their new home in the promised land, the Lord sent “fiery” (poisonous) serpents among them. Fearing for their lives, the people approached Moses and requested that he ask the Lord to take away the serpents. But the Lord didn’t remove the affliction. Instead, he prepared a way for them to overcome its effects. He commanded Moses to create a brass sculpture of a fiery serpent and to set it on a pole. He promised the people that “every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8).
That’s where the story ends in the Bible, but Nephi adds an interesting detail to the story: many people died because they refused to look. The promise sounded preposterous. How could the effects of snake venom be neutralized by simply looking at a sculpture? So, they refused to test the promise. They refused to look, and they died.
Sounds ridiculous, right? But do we also fail to obey simple commandments which could heal us? In the most recent General Conference, Elder L. Whitney Clayton discussed an insight he had received from a friend who is currently serving as a bishop. Some of the members of this bishop’s congregation have been struggling with difficult issues, including marital problems, time management issues, addictions, and questions about church doctrines or policies. When the bishop counseled these members to reinstitute basic religious practices in their lives, they responded with incredulity: “I don’t agree with you, Bishop. We all know those are good things to do. We talk about those things all the time in the Church. But I’m not sure you’re understanding me. What does doing any of those things have to do with the issues I’m facing?”
Here was Elder Whitney’s response:
Over time, that young bishop and I have observed that those who are deliberate about doing the “small and simple things”—obeying in seemingly little ways—are blessed with faith and strength that go far beyond the actual acts of obedience themselves and, in fact, may seem totally unrelated to them. It may seem hard to draw a connection between the basic daily acts of obedience and solutions to the big, complicated problems we face. But they are related. In my experience, getting the little daily habits of faith right is the single best way to fortify ourselves against the troubles of life, whatever they may be. Small acts of faith, even when they seem insignificant or entirely disconnected from the specific problems that vex us, bless us in all we do (“Whatsoever He Saith Unto You, Do It,” General Conference, April 2017).
Today, I will remember that the apparently small and simple commandments can be the key to my peace and happiness. I will remember Nephi’s advice and will do the simple things I have been commanded, knowing that those small acts of obedience may be the key to receiving the healing power of God.