Recently I had an engaging conversation with a young man who was contemplating a mission. As we talked, it became apparent that he was struggling with his decision, because he was questioning the strength of his testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He wanted to know why he had not received more clear answers to his prayers and study of the scriptures.
This young man, whom I will call Jim, was raised in the mission field in a home with loving parents who were doing their best to teach gospel principles to their children.
He is an outstanding athlete and popular among his friends at school. However, he is only one of a very few LDS students in a large high school.
Having raised my family in the mission field, I quickly related to Jim’s challenges of wanting to stay true to gospel principles while being accepted by good friends, yet friends whose values and beliefs generally differed from his.
He was looking for further confirmation of his testimony of Jesus Christ and the Restoration of the gospel.
Today I speak to Jim and many others like him—young men and young women across the world who are unsure about their testimonies but very much want to develop strong, vibrant testimonies that will guide them through the shoals of life that lie ahead.
I also speak to those adults who have not yet felt deeply the spirit of the gospel in their lives. In the absence of a compelling testimony, some have let their daily thoughts and actions become so focused on the things of the world that they have minimized the influence of the light of the gospel in their everyday lives.
And then as Elder Neal A. Maxwell has so eloquently described, also included are those “‘honorable’ members who are skimming over the surface instead of deepening their discipleship and who are casually engaged rather than ‘anxiously engaged’ (D&C 76:75; D&C 58:27)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1992, 89; or Ensign, Nov. 1992, 65).
As I attended the funeral services of Elder Neal A. Maxwell and Elder David B. Haight and listened to their well-deserved tributes, I more fully internalized the extraordinary examples of testimony and discipleship that the lives of these two great brethren demonstrated. I kept pondering how their examples could help strengthen our testimonies and deepen our resolve to come closer to Christ.
These two great disciples of Christ exemplify President Gordon B. Hinckley’s admonition to all of us when he said: “I have been quoted as saying, ‘Do the best you can.’ But I want to emphasize that it be the very best. We are too prone to be satisfied with mediocre performance. We are capable of doing so much better” (“Standing Strong and Immovable,” Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, 10 Jan. 2004, 21).
Surely President Hinckley’s counsel and encouragement applies as much to the development and strengthening of our testimonies of Jesus Christ as to anything else.
True testimonies bring the light of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ into our lives and focus all of us toward the same goal of returning to our Father in Heaven—yet our individual testimonies come through varied experiences and at different stages in our lives.
Like Jim, as a young man I was privileged to have “goodly parents” (1 Ne. 1:1). They taught gospel principles and values to our family by precept and example. As a young boy I thought I had a testimony. I believed! Then came some personal spiritual experiences through faith, prayer, scripture study, and especially father’s blessings in our home that caused me to think more seriously about the principles I had been taught and believed—but even more deeply about what I was beginning to feel. I will be forever grateful to parents who helped coach me through those precious spiritual experiences. They have had a lasting impact on me and on the strength of my testimony.
I think Alma must have had us in mind as he was teaching the Zoramites how to gain testimonies of the truth:
“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27).
Alma then went on to “compare the word unto a seed.” He explained that as hearts are opened, “it will begin to swell within your breasts” (Alma 32:28). Alma then gave us the key to developing a successful testimony:
“But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life” (Alma 32:41).
And then the promise!
“Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you” (Alma 32:43).
Think with me for a moment, brothers and sisters, about what Alma is teaching us.
First, we must have a sincere desire to believe. Phrases such as “awake,” “arouse your faculties,” “experiment,” and “exercise a particle of faith” are action words that suggest sustained effort on our part.
His description of the swelling in our breast describes the feeling of the Holy Spirit. And as Moroni promises, “By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moro. 10:5).
To keep that Spirit growing, Alma says we must nourish it by “faith with great diligence, and with patience.” He then promises that the rewards of faith, diligence, patience, and long-suffering will bring forth everlasting life (Alma 32:41; see also Alma 32:43).
Like Alma, latter-day prophets have been clear in their teachings of the things we need to do to develop and strengthen our testimonies.
We have been sent here to work out our individual salvation through the tests and challenges of daily life. We cannot do that by relying heavily upon the borrowed light of someone else’s testimony. As we receive inspiration when we hear prophets, leaders, and peers bear their testimonies, those spiritual feelings should further enhance our desire to strengthen our own convictions.
To my young friend, and to all wherever you may be, never give up on the Lord. The answer to your prayers may not be as clear or as timely as you would like, but keep praying. The Lord is listening! As you pray, ask for help in understanding the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And then do your very best to be worthy to receive those promptings. As you recognize or feel the impressions and whisperings of the Spirit, then act upon them.
Daily fervent prayers seeking forgiveness and special help and direction are essential to our lives and the nourishment of our testimonies. When we become hurried, repetitive, casual, or forgetful in our prayers, we tend to lose the closeness of the Spirit, which is so essential in the continual direction we need to successfully manage the challenges of our everyday lives. Family prayer every morning and night adds additional blessings and power to our individual prayers and to our testimonies.
Personal, sincere involvement in the scriptures produces faith, hope, and solutions to our daily challenges. Frequently reading, pondering, and applying the lessons of the scriptures, combined with prayer, become an irreplaceable part of gaining and sustaining a strong, vibrant testimony.
President Spencer W. Kimball reminded us of the importance of consistent scripture reading when he said, “I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems … no divine voice is speaking, … if I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball , 135).
The Savior taught, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).
The strong, unwavering testimonies that so many of you wonderful, faithful members of the Church embrace have come from prayerfully following counsel from our prophets and the scriptures. That same priceless blessing is available to each of us who earnestly seek it.
To my young friend Jim, and all others who may have periodic concerns about the strength of their testimonies, know that you are loved and watched over daily by your Father in Heaven. He will respond as you strive to keep His commandments and reach out for His loving hand.
We all share the same promise that the Lord gave to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (D&C 88:63).
Our prophet’s call to do our “very best” challenges each of us, individually and within our families, to carefully examine our personal lives and then commit to change those things which will more fully assure our testimonies are strong and secure.
Strong testimonies become the driving force for each of us to do “much better.” They become the impenetrable bulwark of armor that protects us from the unrelenting things of the world.
I bear my witness that we have a loving, caring Father in Heaven and that He and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to the boy Joseph to usher in the Restoration of the gospel in this last dispensation.
Jesus Christ heads this Church. President Gordon B. Hinckley is His chosen prophet.
May we have the courage and the conviction to follow the prophet’s counsel. As we do so, our personal testimonies will be secure. That this may be so I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.