So, I think having the Liahona appear from no where is a powerful strengthening tool from God. When it appears outside their tent Lehi is astonished but there is no mention of what he thought it was and what his children thought it was. The process of getting to know how to use the Liahona is not written about until the broken bow incident.
1 Nephi 1:28 "And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them. And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it. And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things."
"Small means" is a theme in the Book of Mormon. Nephi uses the term here, it is picked up by Alma, and Mormon uses it to make commentary. The Liahona must have been small in size but not small as to it's divine source, nor to it's effect. Not unlike the gift of the Holy Ghost, it goes unnoticed by the world but it is a divine miracle to the recipient. Many times I have been on my knees and felt the gratitude for the guidance of my heavenly gift.
The strengthening power of the atonement is testified of by Nephi countless times.
1 Nephi 17:2 "And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings. And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness."
The key to this strengthening power is keeping the commandments. And that is logical and understandable. Spiritual growth is more consistent when we learn to respect and even love the commandments He offers.
1 Nephi 17:13 "And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led."
Those words sound so much like Jehovah in the Old Testament, and rightly so. He is the same God with the same purpose to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Nephi testifies that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the same God who was taken and crucified.
1 Nephi 17:10 "And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself, according to the words of the angel, as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up, according to the words of Zenock, and to be crucified, according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulchre, according to the words of Zenos, which he spake concerning the three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of his death unto those who should inhabit the isles of the sea, more especially given unto those who are of the house of Israel."
These prophets mentioned by Nephi are unfamiliar to us but their prophecies are clear. The God, Jesus Christ, who atoned for the sins of mankind and was crucified to insure our resurrection, is the same God who strengthened and supported Abraham and who strengthens and supports us. This is the main message of the first book of Nephi. He receives help and assistance throughout the book and he testifies that he knows the source of this help and it is Jesus Christ.