How to Build a Ship (Or Do Any Other Hard Thing God Wants You to Do)


When I was 21, I spent a year-and-a-half in Chile as a missionary for the LDS church. It was the experience of a lifetime! While teaching the gospel message to an amazing people, I experienced the highest of highs, some pretty deep lows, and spent lots of time on my knees, in the scriptures, and wandering the streets coming to truly know my Heavenly Father. He helped me come to know myself—my weaknesses, and the power I have to accomplish hard things through Him, with faith. These are such important lessons! In The Book of Mormon, Nephi teaches us how to do hard things through his experiences—one of which was the commandment to build a ship! If you’ve ever felt inadequate or overwhelmed with a task you’ve needed to accomplish (and who hasn’t?), this story is for you. We’ve created some lesson ideas to go along with the story so you can share it with your family.


Little children love the story of Nephi building a ship! Search Pinterest or the internet for paper boat instructions—there are tons of easy-to-follow tutorials out there. If you want to add sails like ours, gather up some paper, wooden skewers, popsicle sticks, straws, etc.—anything like that should work. We simply cut rectangles, poked holes with skewers, and then poked it in the top of our paper boats. Have all the materials ready.  

Before giving the instructions, ask your children if they could build a boat. Explain that in 1 Nephi 17, Nephi is commanded to build a ship so that he and his family can cross the sea to the promised land. Surely this was as insurmountable a task to him as it sounds to us! Not only had he never built one, or not had the proper tools to build one—he had no plans, no instruction manual, and no YouTube video to show him how. But he did have the Lord, who commanded him to accomplish it. And when his brothers murmured and doubted, he demonstrated his faith when he replied, “And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many mighty miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me that I should build a ship?”

Our very own Krista Horton (Editorial Director for The Small Seed) does a podcast with her husband called the Scripture Study Podcast. It is fabulous!  In one episode on Nephi’s boat (I stole my title from hers) they point out 3 fabulous ideas—3 suggestions for how Nephi, or any of us, can begin to accomplish that huge—or not so huge—thing the Lord has tasked us with. If appropriate for your family, have them search the references below looking for these three things:

1   |   BELIEVE that through small things great things are brought to pass.
Sometimes we are the small thing. Sometimes we need to remember the power that lies in doing the small things (1 Nephi 16:29, 17:50-51).

2   |   GO where God can teach you and always BE READY to receive instruction.
Nephi goes up into a high mountain to receive his instruction. Our place need not be so distinct—the point is to show God we are listening. (1 Nephi 18:3)

3   |   BE FAITHFUL, diligent, and give heed to the tools that you’ve been given.
For Nephi and his family, one tool they relied on was the liahona. For you and I tools may include scriptures, words of modern prophets, and prayer. (1 Nephi 16:28)

Other ideas to adjust to your family’s level are to simply tell your favorite parts of the story, reading a few verses along the way.  

Once you’ve told the story or read the scriptures, follow the instructions and have fun building your paper boats!

You might also want to apply the principle in this way: My mission companion was taught that when feeling discouraged or overwhelmed by a challenge, to use Nephi’s words in I Nephi 17:51, substituting the words “build a ship” with whatever it is you need to accomplish. 

“And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many mighty miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me that I should _____?”

I might fill my blank with the words, “raise righteous children in today’s world.” As a family, or individually, you can come up with things to fill in the blank.  We’ve included some scripture cards you can download below and print to use for your lesson if you’d like!


Aimee Error

Aimee is the Traditions of Faith editor. Her best ideas for meaningful and fun activities for families usually come to her while folding laundry, packing lunches, or picking up toys. She believes love for God grows at home. Find Aimee on Instagram @aimeeerror.