Sunday, January 30, 2011

How to Gain a Testimony

I have noticed on the occasional Sunday I wake up with reasons all ready flowing through my mind as to why staying home from church would be really quite nice. After all, I almost have a headache, or I'm just more tired than I can remember being in quite some time. Before I'm even out of bed I can hear the children arguing and it would simply be best for all involved if I stayed right where I am!

This attitude typically happens on Sundays when church is the best possible place to be, either because I'm needed there in behalf of someone else, or there is something happening - a lesson being taught or a friend who needs to talk - that is for my personal benefit. Today was one of those days where the latter reason was true.

On the rare fifth Sunday of the month the bishop of the the ward (the spiritual leader over our local congregation) is asked to give a lesson to the men and women age eighteen and over. The lesson topic is not assigned, but rather given over to the bishop to decide as the Holy Spirit guides him. As I happened to be married to the current bishop in our ward, I knew the topic beforehand.

Normally during the same hour the adults are being taught on gospel principles, I am in with the youth age 12-17 and other youth leaders. Today as I stood in the back of the class trying to take count of the girls who had come, the Holy Spirit came over very strong and said, "You need to go listen to your husband teach." Hearing actual words doesn't happen very often to me, so after the initial shock I picked up my bags and quietly left.

The room was rather packed as the meeting had started. I was excited to see assigned quotes and stories handed out, as that seems to get people involved and talking. One of our wonderful men saw me standing and directed me to an empty chair, and I managed to keep from stepping on any one's toes as I crept over to sit down.

Last week I felt inspired to write about what a testimony is. Today's lesson my husband prepared was also on testimonies. The lesson revolved around two different ideas I'd like to touch on today. First, how does a person gain a testimony?

In my last post I said a testimony is a spiritual witness given to us through the Holy Spirit that something is true. As I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nicknamed the Mormon Church, I have chosen to refer to a particular book in the Book of Mormon - another testament of Jesus Christ. This reference beautifully describes the testimony process.

Gaining a testimony begins with hope. "And now as I said concerning faith - faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true" (Alma 32:21). We must have a sincere desire to know if something is of God. Coming to Him in prayer to ask about spiritual things without truly wanting to know the answer will do you no good. It would be akin to standing directly in front of the Lord asking Him to prove Himself by performing a miracle, but inwardly ready to explain it all away through scientific methods. Christ could perform acts of grandiose accomplishment right in front of our faces, but if we have all ready decided it cannot be real the act itself will not mean a thing. There is no way the Holy Spirit can give us a witness to the truth. We will easily reject that which has been born of the Spirit.

So before you go to ask the Lord if something is of Him, talk to yourself first. Be honest in discovering what your intentions are. Do you truly want to know? If the answer is no, perhaps now is not the time to ask. If this answer disturbs you go to the Father in prayer, asking what you need to do and where you might go to learn more in order to receive a change of heart.

If you find your desire to know the truth is sincere and full of hope, I would invite you to look upon this desire as a seed, and begin an experiment.

"Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts, and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves - It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me...

"...As the seed swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good...behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for it sprouteth and beginneth to grow...

"...Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away" (Alma 32: 28-32).

You come to the Lord with a sincere desire to know if something is true, good, or right. It has been in your heart and made you feel uplifted and you want to know, not just believe, that it is indeed of God. You have turned to the scriptures to read about it, you have studied and pondered upon it, and you have prayed to know if it is true. Does the light and warmth leave you? Do you find the thoughts, ideas, and understanding leave your mind? If so, the seed was not good. It was not inspired of God, and needs to be left alone. On the other hand, does the feeling of warmth, of light, of understanding stay with you? If so, then the seed was good and deserves to be nurtured.

Like any seed our hope and faith need to be nourished. Just as a seed needs sunlight, good earth, and water to grow and become strong, the tender beginnings of a testimony needs nourishment as well. We must continually look to find out more about the thing we hope to gain a strong testimony about. Continue to read the word of God, to find other good books and works to help gain understanding, as well as continue in prayer. The more we nourish this seed, the greater it will become, until it is strong enough to stand on it's own.

As Alma says in verses 33-34: "And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good. And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand."

If you seek to gain that spiritual witness to the truth of something about which you have read or heard, ask yourself if it is good. What feelings does it bring? Seek to discover if you truly want to know if it is of God. Turn to His word to study and ponder upon the subject. Then go to the Father in prayer.

"I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things" (Moroni 10: 4-5).

A testimony does not stop with an answer, however. We must begin to live the truths we've received. For example, what good does it do us to have a testimony about paying tithes and other offerings if we do nothing about it? Our testimony in it will grow weak, and when we find ourselves tested and tried regarding paying our tithing, we may find our testimony too weak to sustain us through the trial. Testimonies are not dependent on how much we love the gospel of Jesus Christ, or on how much we love Him, but rather on how much we are willing to live it.

The second thing discussed in our lesson today was on how our testimonies are often based on answers to prayer. Or rather, what seems to us to be a lack of answers. Often we attach our belief in God and His love for us to whether or not He answers a prayer. One woman in class made a wonderful comment. She said sometimes we look for answers with a great big cone around our head and focused on the front door, because that's where we believe the answers should come from. After all, that is what has worked for us before. Sometimes, though, Heavenly Father is giving us answers through the back door, where we are unwilling to look. If we could take off the cone and turn around, we might find the answer needed.

Answers to prayers do not come in one particular way, always in a form we are familiar with, or in a time we desire. There are moments we are asked to practice patience and wait for the answer. If some of you have asked and have not received an answer, are you doing what is necessary for when the answer is ready to come? We must place - and keep - ourselves in harmony with the Lord. Continue to read the word of the Lord, to pray, to attend church, and to live according to His gospel.

How do we know if the answer is to wait? How do we know if the answer, which has come in an unexpected method, is truly of God? In the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of revelations given to Joseph Smith during his time here on earth acting as the Lord's prophet, we have been given the needed information.

"But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong" (D&C 9:8-9).

If you receive peace, it is good. Wait until the answer you seek is ready to be given. If instead you you find yourself without peace, with a sudden stop of thought, it is not good and should be let go. In times like this it is most important to show faith in the Lord, regardless of whether or not we feel we have received an answer, and practice patience. We must remember that His knowledge and understanding far exceeds our own.

To close I want to take a moment to testify about this church to which I belong. Even though I have grown up being taught the doctrines of this religion, I too was encouraged to practice what was being preached. I planted my own seeds about the Book of Mormon and the truthfulness of this being the Lord's restored gospel. These seeds have blossomed and have grown until my original faith became dormant as belief turned into knowledge. I have received my own spiritual witness, one I cannot deny. It is a sure knowledge. I don't expect everyone out there to share this with me, as this witness was for me alone. However, I would invite all of you out there to discover the truth for yourselves, when you are ready.

If anything you have read here on my blog has brought you feelings of peace and warmth, if you find yourselves wanting to know more about this Church and what we are taught, if the desire is sincere and your heart truly seeks a spiritual witness, the best way to know is not through me but through the Lord. Read the Book of Mormon for yourselves. Feel free to ask questions of those knowledgeable in this gospel. Look up the Church approved sites to help gain further light and knowledge.

I will put up a few links to go to if you wish to read more:
Book of Mormon

1 comment:

DL3 said...