Missionaries and their Mission Presidents around the globe have often wondered why they may not be getting the thousands of conversions-- or in some cases, dozens or even any-- that we read about in the Book of Mormon and in Church history. On my own mission I certainly pondered that question. I did all I could to be faithful, and I was certainly willing, but I wondered how I could bring more souls to Christ and why it wasn't easier. It was the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the restoration of His priesthood authority and organization that we were preaching, after all.
Some understanding came from Alma 26:22, where the Lord teaches through Ammon that bringing souls to repentance is a gift. Rather than a formula, demanding repentance, faith, good works and continual prayers in exchange for the conversion miracle, I realized that while all of those things are required, the blessing that I sought was a gift from God that would come in His own time and in His own way.
An excellent example of this principle can be found in 3 Nephi 7. In this chapter, a people that had repented in the aftermath of their preservation from terrorists had returned from righteousness to wickedness. The prophet Nephi went among the people "with power and with great authority" and "began to testify, boldly, repentance and remission of sins through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ" (3 Nephi 7:16-17).
Because of his great faith, the scriptures record that "it were not possible that [the people] could disbelieve" the words of Nephi. Yet, a full year passed and "there were but few who were converted unto the Lord". Those were converted also began to testify, but a second year passed without significant change. Nephi and those who were converted had extreme faith, repented in the face of much opposition and were continually going about doing good and even performing miracles-- if anyone has ever qualified to bring souls to Christ it was this group of missionaries.
Qualification is not enough, however. Unable to earn such a blessing, each of us relies on the grace of God to grant us the blessings of heaven according to the timing, mercy and love of our Father in Heaven.
For Nephi, the beginning of the third year was the time appointed of the Lord for him to baptize. His teaching did not change-- he stilll "did preach unto them repentance and remission of sins" as he had before (3 Nephi 7:23). Yet, "there were many in the commencement of this year that were baptized unto repentance; and thus the more part of the year did pass away" (3 Nephi 7:26).
When we qualify ourselves and seek to do the will of the Lord with all patience and with all diligence, the Lord will bless us in His own time and in His own way. Such blessings are a gift from God, neither earned nor deserved, but come because He loves us and He wants His children to return to Him. Let us all press forward, then, in diligence and patience, to qualify ourselves for the gifts of God that when the time is right we may be ready for the blessings of heaven.