A speaker was trying to demonstrate the evils of alcohol. On a table in front of him were two glasses full of clear liquid. He explained that one of the glasses was full of water and the other full of pure alcohol. He put a worm in the glass of water, and it swam happily. Then he put the same worm in the alcohol, and it died.
“What conclusion do you reach?” he asked.
A voice from the back of the room cried, “If you drink alcohol, you’ll never get worms.”
The conclusion to be drawn from this story, of course, is that you can hear or see—you can perceive—exactly what you want to perceive, according to your own prejudices.
The scriptures warn us about this. They say that if we give in to our own perceptions rather than following the Spirit, we can easily draw incorrect conclusions. That is what is described in Doctrine and Covenants 1:16, “Every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world.” [D&C 1:16]
By contrast, we are urged to learn the gospel, the revealed truth: “Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled” (D&C 1:37).
Evidently, then, proper perception of the gospel message is critical. And of course, the earlier in life that you can develop a correct perception, the better for you, because it will give you a true course to follow.
We are each confronted with eternal questions we must answer, questions we often state as “Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?” President Gordon B. Hinckley paraphrased those same questions as, “Through whom did I come? What is my purpose here? With whom will I associate in the eternities?” (speech at dedication of the Church Genealogical Library, Oct. 23, 1985).
You can try to avoid the answers to these questions, to negate the truth, to replace it by your own voice or the voice of your friends, or to change the answers according to the circumstances. But to do so means you will go through life ungoverned, unstable, and unsatisfied. One day you will have to know for yourself, and you will have to develop an ability to perceive gospel truth and its eternal consequences.
The prophet Alma gives us a lesson in how to develop a proper perception of revelation. He teaches us how to get an answer and how to recognize it as true.
First he quotes the invitation of Christ: “Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely;
“Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness” (Alma 5:34–35). Notice that this invitation is also a challenge.
Then Alma tells of his own experience:
“Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? … And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?
“… I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. … the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit” (Alma 5:45–46).
What we really learn from this great testimony is that he perceived the truth of “the words which have been spoken by our fathers” (Alma 5:47), through study, prayer, and fasting, by listening to the Holy Spirit.
From the experience of Alma, what is your perception of the testimonies of the prophets, whether of old or of modern times? Do you believe that revelation from prophets can guide you safely through this life?
What conclusions do you reach as a young man or young woman when, nearly every day of your life, you are confronted with the opposite opinion?
On the one side, you have the so-called traditional values, the teachings you received from your “fathers”—parents, teachers, leaders. They offer you living water. They invite you to partake of the tree of life (see Rev. 22:1–2; 1 Ne. 8:10–12). This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, that plan of salvation to bring you happiness and protection in this life and in the life to come.
Again, do we perceive the message, the revelation, correctly?
A young woman of Samaria experienced this reaffirming process of knowledge about the source of eternal life. She asked Jesus, whom she did not know,
“From whence then hast thou that living water?” (John 4:11).
And Jesus answered, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13–14).
She immediately, perceiving correctly, made a wise decision: “Sir, give me this water,” and then after being questioned by the Savior and reaching a spiritual conclusion, she testified, “I perceive that thou art a prophet” (John 4:15, 19). And she added, “I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ” (John 4:25).
The confirmation of her faith, her perception, her belief, came then in succinct words from Jesus: “I that speak unto thee am he” (John 4:26).
On the other side, you are offered the water that does not quench thirst. In spiritual terms, it may be called water of affliction, or polluted water. This water will give you what you sometimes think you may like or want to hear. It says, “Be free of the traditions of your fathers. There is no sin, no barrier, no restraint, no Savior.”
Your most difficult task will be to distinguish between these two wells of water. Like the two glasses of clear liquid the speaker used to talk about alcohol, living water and polluted water may appear very much alike. But their effects are dramatically different. So too, it may be easy to think that the voices of sin are clear and reasonable; in fact, however, they can never be.
Do you perceive—through fasting and prayer, by the Holy Spirit of revelation, through listening to prophets—what you are, what you are here for, what you are here to become? The true perception, the true answer, the true challenge, is to know for yourself that you are a child of God, that you are here to know Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that your mission is to come to him and “be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life” (Alma 5:62).
As you read these testimonies and hear this invitation, may you not only be touched by it just for the time it takes to read this article, but may you also reach the righteous conclusion to enter into a covenant with Christ, to “serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you” (Mosiah 18:10).
I pray that this will be the desire of your hearts: always to have the correct perception of life, always to keep the commandments, “for length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee” (Prov. 3:2).