BoM 8: Personal Testimony, Personal Responsibility

One of the Come, Follow Me prompts for last week’s study of Mosiah 25-28 suggested that we discuss the importance of taking responsibility for our own testimonies. Chapter 26 identifies “the rising generation,” those who were children at the end of King Benjamin’s reign, did not understand his teachings and did not make the covenant along with their parents, and who chose not to believe and not to be baptized as they grew older. (See Mosiah 26:1-2, BoM.) Testimony, or belief, is the foundation for participation in a faith community.

Another great word for testimony is conviction. The older generation who, under King Benjamin, entered into a covenant with God to believe in Christ and take His name upon them, were convinced of the truth of King Benjamin’s words (see Mosiah 5:2-7, BoM). This conviction led them to behave in ways consistent with the teachings of their king and the diverse group of people became unified under the covenant. They had peace in their land, they welcomed strangers to join their community, they worked hard to serve each other. Each person who had made the covenant honored it individually and as a community of believers.

Years ago I sat in an ecclesiastical endorsement interview with my Bishop so that I could attend a church university. My bishop asked me to share my testimony. I shared typical statements of belief: I know the Church is true, I know Joseph Smith was the prophet of the Restoration, I know Jesus Christ lives, etc. When I finished, my bishop unforgettably stated, “that’s nice. That is a very simple testimony.” The paternalism dripping from these words offended me deeply. What’s wrong with my testimony, I fumed to myself? It’s a sincere testimony!

About six years later I discovered what my bishop meant. As I suffered through the first months of my mission, with my self-construct crumbling, facing rejection every day and feeling very isolated among colleagues who didn’t know or love me, I had to learn to rely on a personage who I believed in and whose existence I felt certain of, but with whom I had never had “real” experience.

You see, it turned out that I had been living the Gospel in a vacuum, following the teachings of the Church and keeping commandments in carefully controlled settings that presented almost no challenges to me or to my faith. I grew up in a sheltered home, was oblivious to many things in high school that could have given me some real life experience, attended a Church university where it was easy to keep Church standards and follow Church teachings, and then lived with my grandmother while I worked and prepared for my mission. Each situation certainly had its own challenges, but none of those challenges constituted the sort of rich environment that allows for deep testimony development or growth. I lived the Gospel but with very little opposition. Without realizing that I had created a controlled environment for myself, I made internal claims as to having overcome various personal weaknesses. In reality I hadn’t actually overcome anger management problems, I had only removed myself from situations that caused flare ups. I didn’t actually love other people like Christ does—I just created an environment for myself in which I could associate with people when and where I wanted to and love from a distance.

All of that changed on my mission where I was suddenly forced to live in an environment completely out of my control. I begged God to help me get out of the worst of the situations and then I developed a bitterness against Him for not removing the challenges. This was my first real experience grappling with faith and testimony. Did God really exist if I couldn’t feel His presence? Did He really exist if He didn’t answer my prayers right way or in the manner I expected?

As I endured and tried to process the various experiences of my mission, I began to learn profound truths about the nature of testimony and what it takes to truly believe, to be convinced and change one’s behavior to be consistent with those convictions. King Benjamin’s people became so convinced of their lost and fallen state—they felt that truth deeply—that they begged for a solution. They believed in Christ because they also felt deeply the truth that only He could save them. (See Mosiah 4:1-3, BoM.)

In my darkest moments as a missionary I relied on the basic “simple” truths I had learned as a teenager: Christ exists. I found a deeper connection to Him in my anguish and built personal strength to believe regardless of my circumstances. I learned how the Atonement is supposed to work in helping us change our “natural wo/man” tendencies to godly characteristics and behaviors—it’s a painful process that cannot happen in a vacuum! I needed opposition (2 Nephi 2:11, BoM) to challenge me, to allow me to confront my weaknesses and, with Christ’s help, practice behaving in better ways until my heart could be changed and I could “naturally” behave in godly ways; in other words, have my nature changed.

I experienced a new facet of God’s grace as part of this testimony-building experience. For several months on my mission my behavior towards my companions was nothing short of despicable. My self-construct or false identity was gone and I began behaving in my most “natural” way; it turned out that a really mean and judgmental person had been lurking beneath my façade (see Mosiah 3:19, BoM). Despite my awful behavior, however, I experienced how deeply Christ loved me and desired my improvement. He blessed me continuously with powerful experiences ministering to local members and investigators, He magnified my singing voice to touch people’s hearts, He helped me and my companions teach in unity with the Spirit, He saw the unspoken righteous desires of my heart and answered them in subtle and meaningful ways. I didn’t deserve any of it—I recognized that all too clearly—but the patience and love with which Christ ministered to me helped me begin changing my heart. As I experienced the power and depth of Christ’s love for every single person on Earth I began to see others with new eyes.

So, while I “knew” as a young person that God is real and that Jesus Christ is my Savior, I did not have the experiential knowledge that makes for a deep or multi-faceted testimony. Not until I followed spiritual promptings to serve a mission and had to take responsibility for my spiritual life, did I begin to build true conviction.

The message I most wanted to share with my children this week is the importance of taking responsibility for their personal testimonies. We discussed different experiences they could have as children that will help them build their testimonies. I can teach them simple Gospel truths, simple enough that they can understand (see Mosiah 26:1, BoM); but I also need to invite them to take action to find out for themselves if and how those principles are true and what that truth means for them. This is the locus of belief or faith.

As a parent I want to create a safe environment in which my children can learn and grow in both secular and spiritual knowledge, but I also want them to have significant life experiences earlier than I did that will help them build deep and abiding convictions in God’s literal existence, His awareness of them, the worth of souls, and Jesus Christ’s infinite love and ability to help us all become exalted individuals and families.

Day 78: Scripture For Our Day

Mormon 8:34-41

The Book of Mormon, as compiled and abridged by the prophet Mormon, was intended for our day. God planned well in advance for its discovery, miraculous translation, and transmission around the world. Fully aware of God’s intentions having read the prophecies regarding the record’s future, Moroni wrote, “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing” (Mormon 8:35).

I never fail to get goosebumps when I read this verse from Moroni! If you ever wonder whether The Book of Mormon is truly an ancient history that records the details of real people’s interactions with God, this verse should lay to rest any doubts. And once you realize The Book of Mormon is speaking to you, the scriptures open up new meaning. As I read, I consider that everything included in the record was carefully chosen and can have direct correlation to our day and circumstances. I sometimes ask myself when I read, “what am I supposed to learn from this? What is the intended message? Why was this included and what should I take from it?”

These past 78 days of reading The Book of Mormon have only solidified my conviction that it is an ancient record, written by real people thousands of years ago. They knew God, they made covenants with Him; they learned about Jesus Christ and looked forward to His coming; they practiced baptism by immersion and taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ; they testify of Jesus Christ’s reality, His role as Savior and Redeemer, and the crucial importance of repentance and preparation to meet God.

What message does The Book of Mormon have for you?

Day 72: Labor exceedingly

3 Nephi 19:1-3

I find it so instructive and inspiring how the Nephites and Lamanites reacted to the appearance of Jesus Christ among them in the Americas. By chapter 19, Jesus has appeared and provided ample proof of His identity to the people (3 Nephi 11:1-17); instructed them (3 Nephi 11:28-41; 11:12-15); called and set apart disciples (3 Nephi 11:18-26); prophesied (3 Nephi 16); ministered to the children (3 Nephi 17:11-25); healed the sick (3 Nephi 17:7-10); instituted the sacrament (3 Nephi 18:1-12); and more. He ascends into heaven at the end of the day, promising to return the next day.

And now it came to pass that when Jesus had ascended into heaven, the multitude did disperse, and every man did take his wife and his children and did return to his own home.

And it was noised abroad among the people immediately, before it was yet dark, that the multitude had seen Jesus, and that he had ministered unto them, and that he would also show himself on the morrow unto the multitude. (3 Nephi 19:1-2)

The people who have already seen Jesus don’t just go home to bed. They spread the word eagerly across the land that Jesus has come and that He will come back the next day. This got me thinking: I have come to know the Savior in my own life through various experiences, scripture study, and prayer, but have I done my part to share that with others? Have I “noised abroad” all the good He has brought into my life? Have I made sure that my friends and family know where and how to find Jesus for themselves?

Yea, and even all the night it was noised abroad concerning Jesus; and insomuch did they send forth unto the people that there were many, yea, an exceedingly great number, did labor exceedingly all that night, that they might be on the morrow in the place where Jesus should show himself unto the multitude. (3 Nephi 19:3)

As I continue to learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, live it, and practice my religion daily, I think on the Nephites and Lamanites who did not see Jesus when He first appeared. They heard about the miraculous appearance after it had happened (at night) and many of them “did labor exceedingly all that night, that they might be on the morrow in the place where Jesus should show himself unto the multitude” (ibid.). Do I “labor exceedingly” to be in the places, doing the things, that will allow me to “meet the Savior,” to increase my knowledge and testimony of Jesus Christ? We know that prior to Christ’s arrival in the Americas, much of the infrastructure had been destroyed (e.g. roads, cities, etc.); I can only imagine that it was very difficult to travel from nearby regions, let alone from great distances. And, yet, the people heard that Jesus would be in Bountiful and they worked hard––through the night!––to get there in time.

I can follow the example of the Nephites and Lamanites. I can do a better job of sharing my testimony and knowledge of Jesus Christ with everyone. I can do better getting to the temple monthly, making time to study the scriptures, preparing Family Home Evening lessons, and researching the new family home study program. Just as the Nephites and Lamanites witnessed great miracles as a result of their diligent efforts to share and be where Jesus would be, we will experience great spiritual growth and witness miracles in our own lives.

Day 67: Season of Miracles

3 Nephi 7:15-21 and 3 Nephi 8:1

As I read these verses today, I reflected on President Russell M. Nelson’s prophetic invitation to the women of the Church during October General Conference. In extending the invitations to fast from social media, read the entire Book of Mormon by the end of the year, establish a pattern of regular temple attendance, and fully participate in Relief Society, President Nelson promised an increase of spiritual power in our lives. As President Nelson suggested, miracles can happen when we turn to Jesus Christ.

The prophet Nephi (the third) demonstrates in 3 Nephi 7 and 8 how this process works. Nephi lived during a tumultuous time in Book of Mormon history. Large numbers of people were converted to Jesus Christ, then turned to wickedness quickly and en masse. Some converted back. The government was overthrown; society made a huge shift in its basic organization. Nephi had his work cut out for him preaching repentance, prophesying of Christ’s anticipated death and resurrection, and trying to ready the people to meet their Savior.

Nephi had incredible access to God’s power in the midst of this upheaval. He ministered “with power and with great authority” (3 Nephi 7:17). He testified boldly and diligently. “[S]o great was his faith on the Lord Jesus Christ that angels did minister unto him daily” (3 Nephi 7:18). Everything he did––casting out “devils and unclean spirits,” raising his brother from the dead, and many more––he did “in the name of Jesus” (3 Nephi 7:19-20). The key to working miracles? Faith in Jesus Christ, and spiritual purity. “[A]nd there was not any man who could do a miracle in the name of Jesus save he were cleansed every whit from his iniquity” (3 Nephi 8:1).

The invitations President Nelson extended will bring God’s power and influence into our lives because those activities not only draw us closer to the Savior but they also cleanse us spiritually. During this season of miracles, let’s identify ways in which we can improve our spiritual health so that we can work miracles in the lives of those around us.

Day 65: No cause for unbelief

Helaman 14:12, 28, 31

I want to connect three separate ideas I came across in Helaman 14. This chapter continues the record of Samuel the Lamanite’s preaching and prophecies to the Nephites. Samuel doesn’t mince words and there are several important truths he proclaims in simple, clarifying terms that come to bear on every person on earth.

The first eternal truth identifies Jesus’ role in the universe. Samuel’s description of the coming Savior as “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, the Creator of all things” makes His sacrifice that much more compelling (Helaman 14:12). Our Creator sacrificed HIMSELF for us. He chose to come to earth, live through mortality in extremely humble circumstances, suffer excruciating pain, and endure an ignominious, painful death all for US. I stand all amazed.

A few verses later Samuel reifies this prophetic information by explaining that God will provide sensate proof of its reality and truth. No one has an excuse to not believe because “these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men” (Helaman 14:28).

Finally, Samuel the Lamanite concludes his testimony of the Savior and the need to believe in Jesus Christ by reminding the people that they have the power to choose (Helaman 14:31). Even after the testimonies and the signs are given, each person must choose for him-/herself whether or not to believe and act on that belief. If they choose to believe in Christ, they choose life, eternal life through faith, good works, repentance, and consistent effort to follow Jesus Christ.

Day 59: Belief and Action

Helaman 3:27-30

I felt so moved this morning as I read the Book of Mormon writer’s (I think it’s Mormon here) reflections on the miracle of the Savior’s saving power.

Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name.

Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.

Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked–

And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out.

I’m not going to try to embellish these verses but I do want to point out a few of the phrases that struck me so forcefully.

  • “The Lord is merciful unto ALL” and “the gate of heaven is open to AlL”
  • We must be sincere as we lay claim on God’s mercy
  • Being saved requires that we believe in Jesus Christ and “lay hold upon the word of God,” act on our belief
  • The word of God cuts through the distractions and temptations of this life
  • Our goal in this life should be to become women and men of Christ
  • Laying hold upon the word of God, acting on our belief/faith, will “land our immortal souls” in the kingdom of heaven
  • If we follow the strait and narrow course to the kingdom of God, we will have the peace of dwelling “in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23)

I am so grateful for the Savior Jesus Christ, for His mercy, His love for ALL God’s children, His Atonement, His saving power, and His invitation to follow Him and receive the gift of eternal life.

Day 53: Being a Mother Who Knows

Alma 56

The 2000 sons of the people of Ammon agreed to join the Nephite army and help defend their adopted homeland. They requested that the prophet Helaman lead them (Alma 53:19) and when, miraculously, none were killed in battle, Helaman asked how it could be. The answer? “[T]hey had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it” (Alma 56:47-48).

This is the kind of mother I want to be. A mother who is trustworthy, who inspires confidence in and imparts knowledge of eternal significance to her children. The stripling sons believed their mothers and that reliance on their mothers’ testimonies provided a foundation of faith and space in which they could test their belief and develop their own faith and knowledge. They didn’t doubt that God would save them and their faith in His power was proven many times.

I have spent the last few months learning how to make the daily choices that allow me to become this kind of mother. I have learned that becoming this kind of mother must be intentional; such qualities develop out of the little decisions I make every day when I react to my kids’ behavior, respond to their requests, play with them (or put them off), engage them in learning (both spiritual and secular). I am finally accepting the reality that I have to stop letting less significant things take priority and pull me in different directions. I need to be intentional and proactive to become a mother who knows, whose children never doubt their “mothers knew.”

For further reading on this topic, check out Julie B. Beck’s talk “Mothers Who Know” from October 2007 General Conference.

Day 31: A Testimony of Christ

Mosiah 26

The Book of Mormon is replete with the words of Christ and testimonies of Him from His prophets, angels, missionaries, and disciples. I find the dialogue of Mosiah 26 especially beautiful. The premortal Christ responds personally to Alma the elder’s concerned pleading for help on how best to administer the Church in Zarahemla and deal with apostasy and persecution. I don’t feel the need to embellish this section with too many of my own words so allow me to highlight and make brief comments on the passages that really stand out to me:

  • God makes the all-important statement of existence: “I am the Lord their God” (v. 26)
  • God clarifies His role as the Creator: “it is I that hath created them” (v. 23)
  • He states one of His essential roles: “I am their Redeemer” (v. 26)
  • God testifies of Himself and His supernal role: “it is I that taketh upon me the sins of the world” (v. 23)
  • God confirms His power and the qualifications for salvation and exaltation: “it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand” (v. 23)
  • God acknowledges the official organization over which Alma presides: “this is my church” (v. 22)
  • He declares His mercy: “as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me” (v. 30)

Jesus Christ created our earth and mankind under the direction of His Father. He took upon Himself the conditions of mortality in order to understand what we, His children, experience so that He can best help us. He suffered, bled, and died to make repentance viable, forgiveness possible, and gift Resurrection to everyone who has lived, lives, or will live on the Earth.

Day 22: Irreducible Truths

Jarom 1:2, 9

I have mentioned before that I love patterns. I also love categorizing things and naming categories. One of my hobby horses is “irreducible truths,” or eternal truths or fundamental/foundational truths. I like using the term “irreducible” because it captures an important aspect of this category: The truths they describe cannot be reduced further; they are foundational to the universe and provide the answer for so many questions rather than being questions themselves.

The prophet Jarom (son of Enos) states a couple of these irreducible truths in his very brief section of the Book of Mormon. In verse two he writes about why his writings are so short, namely that previous prophets covered what he felt were the most essential doctrines. He names the Plan of Salvation as one of these foundational principles that is both essential and already covered in the writings to which he had access, “and this sufficeth me,” he concludes. If I ever wondered what the critical knowledge of the Gospel is, here’s my answer. The Plan of Salvation teaches us where we came from, why we are here on earth, and where we are going after this life; this is reality.

Another fundamental truth Jarom touches on appears in verse nine. He references previous scriptural writings to testify of the fulfillment of God’s word that, “Inasmuch as ye will keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.” I love how the Book of Mormon references itself, how writers recollect past writings and confirm the fulfillment of prophecies. To me this is a witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, but, even more importantly, it is a testimony of God: It expresses the irreducible truth of God’s existence, His participation in our earthly experience, His role as covenant maker, and the simply stated fact that He fulfills ALL His words and promises. It behooves us to listen and heed His word.