[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Conference, October 2015.]
When I was 16 years old, my brother returned from his mission to Montreal, Canada. We had shared a room together for many years. Curt is one part genius, one part (more than one, actually) Christ-like model, and one part absent-minded. He would come home after a date when I was 12 or 13 years old and sound asleep, turn the light on in our room, which was right in my face since I was on the top bunk, and then go off to brush his teeth and get ready for bed, forgetting he had left the light on. He would fall asleep sometimes while kneeling at his bed saying his prayers.
On this night, though, it came time for us to get to bed and since he hadn’t been around for two years and both of us had changed a fair amount during that time, we weren’t talking much—probably because neither of us knew what to say. So I asked him a question: “Curt, tell me what the most important thing was that you learned on your mission.” He paused and thought and finally said something like this: “I have learned that we need to focus on the very most basic principles of the gospel—on faith and repentance. We have enough to worry about with those things; we don’t need to strain at doctrines that are less basic.”
I have given that statement a lot of thought in the 33 years since then. It came in some contrast to the sometimes edgy and always inquisitive mind of my father, another great man, who enjoys pondering aspects of the gospel that we know little about. He just finished writing his 8th (I think) unpublished book since his retirement, this one titled “Questions for the Next Life” in which he poses a few hundred questions he is looking forward to getting answers to when he gets to the other side. Questions like “How long were the days of the creation?” and “What, exactly, are cherubim?” I will always be grateful to have been raised in an atmosphere of questions and learning. I believe that has provided many advantages for me in my life.
Meanwhile, I am constantly reminded of the importance of my brother’s statement about focusing on the very most basic principles of the gospel. The opportunities I have had to observe, learn from, and counsel with others continues to affirm for me the importance of that statement. I would like to talk today for a few minutes about the importance of nurturing two critically important and basic things: our faith and our testimonies.
Why are Faith and Testimony so critical?
Three things come to mind…
- A testimony is a great blessing as we navigate life on earth. The prophet Mormon speaks of belief, faith, and hope providing “an anchor to the souls of men, which make them sure and steadfast.” The apostle Paul talks about being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” Mormon, too, spoke of being “as a vessel” “tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor.” Faith and testimony provide safety, stability, direction, steadiness, and confidence. Faith and testimony make for homes built on rocks rather than on sand.
- If it is true that Jesus Christ is really our Savior and that legitimate priesthood keys are found in the restored Church—and I testify that those things are true—then great blessings in eternity, including the possibilities of exaltation and eternal families, hinge on the faith we exercise in those truths. Many of our eternal rewards depend upon our exercising faith and testimony in this life.
- Life is a test and your testimony is very likely to be tested, either directly to challenges about the validity of the Church’s priesthood authority or indirectly through adversity that causes you to wonder where God is and why things are not less unfair and more the way you feel like they should be. You and I will be best off if, at the time of our most difficult testing, we remain true to the faith and testimonies we have received and exercised—and, if we in fact, build on them. It is important to remember that when we refer to life as a test, it is not God being tested to see if He will give us what we want when we want it; it is us being tested to see if we will turn to Him, trust in Him, rely on Him, and move forward in faith when we face the greatest adversity.
Now, with those reasons for why faith and testimony are important as background, let me briefly discuss four important principles associated with faith and testimony.
First: Testimonies are not binary. They are not something that you either have or do not have. Testimonies exist in degrees: from developing testimonies to powerful testimonies and everything in between. Faith, similarly, can be exercised in large or small degrees or somewhere in between.
Likewise, it is not true that the testimony you have, to whatever degree you have it, will always be there. Testimonies grow or they wither. They wax or they wane.
Testimonies seldom come in a momentary brilliant flash; nor always through an intense burning in the bosom. However they come, they don’t last forever on their own. Testimonies are nurtured or neglected each day. Like the sycamore trees that Elder Ballard recently referenced for us, testimonies grow when they are watered; faith expands when it is exercised. Testimonies wither when they are neglected; faith weakens when it is not placed into action. Testimonies usually come and are strengthened slowly: “line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little and there a little.”
If you are nurturing your testimony on a daily basis, then keep going! If you are not, you are placing too much at risk and I urge you to make the necessary changes because the testing of your testimony is very probably coming.
Second: It is not enough to have a testimony; it is also important to have a reason (or reasons) for having a testimony and to know what those reasons are. Peter admonished us: “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” Especially in those moments when your faith and testimony may feel challenged, it is important for you to remember and know the reasons why you exercised faith and expressed testimony in the first place.
I do not think it can be over-emphasized that Latter-day Saints neither believe in blind faith nor in a head-in-the-sand approach to our faith. We believe that those who find are those who seek and that those who receive are those who ask. We believe that answers to prayers come both to our hearts and our minds. We believe in using reason. “Let us reason together,” the Doctrine and Covenants invites.
It is interesting that we refer to those who are actively exploring our church, not as “ignorants” but as “investigators.” Those of us who were born into the Church should be investigators and active learners, ourselves, and not “ignorants.” Those who study and learn, build their houses on rocks. Those who don’t, build theirs on sand.
Note that when I refer to study and learning, I am not referring to strictly academic exercises at all. This type of study and learning must involve our hearts and spirits in addition to our minds. The things of the Spirit are learned by the spirit. Spiritual truths are revealed through the Spirit and there is no way around that that I know of. Our reasons for having testimonies and exercising faith should be supported by experiences of the spirit, the heart, and the mind.
Third: The beginning of faith and testimony is desire – and that means agency. Alma taught clearly with his analogy of planting a seed that the very first step to faith is desire, specifically, a “desire to believe.” When Moroni talks about praying to God about the Book of Mormon he refers to “a sincere heart” and “real intent.” Testimony begins by choosing to want to believe. Faith grows when, once believing or choosing to believe, we choose to act on that belief.
I cannot believe in the restoration of priesthood authority or in the divinity of the Savior if I do not choose to at least want to believe in them.
Neither faith nor testimony is comprised of a “perfect knowledge.” This Alma also teaches clearly in his analogy. He said, “if a man knoweth a thing, he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.” He goes on to distinguish between knowing things through evidence we’ve accumulated and having a perfect knowledge of the whole matter, which renders faith unnecessary.
Does exercising agency with imperfect knowledge mean that faith and testimony come from ignorance or unsubstantiated choices? As Paul would say, “God forbid!” My choice to believe—or my choice to want to believe—simply opens the door, so my heart and mind may be receptive to evidences, both practical and spiritual, which allow my faith and testimony to be increasingly built on a foundation of genuine evidence: spiritual and practical and logical.
Until our faith grows into a perfect knowledge, however—which may not be very soon, considering that we came to earth to learn to exercise agency and faith together—agency and desire will remain essential elements of our faith and testimonies. If they don’t, we will lose our faith and our testimonies.
It is helpful to remember what the Savior taught Thomas, who insisted that he must see with his own physical eyes and touch with his own physical hands or he would refuse to believe. (This in spite of the fact that he already had many very good reasons to believe.) To him the Savior said, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” I think the Savior is saying here that more blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.
Lastly, let me suggest that there are two indispensable elements to developing a testimony and building faith.
One is to consistently seek two-way communion with God through the Holy Ghost. We do this by hearing and studying His words in scriptures and the words of both living and ancient prophets. We do it by praying and then paying attention to the thoughts and feelings we receive. We seek to become acquainted with the feelings of the Spirit and to be ready and alert that we might recognize them when present.
The other is to live the teachings of the Savior as we receive them through scripture, through living prophets, and through personal revelation. Jesus said that those who “do His will shall know.” I cannot expect to truly commune with God when I live patterns in my life that are contrary to His teachings. If, however, I seek communion with God and I strive sincerely to live with diligence the principles He is communicating to me, I will come to know—typically, “line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little and there a little.”
Over time, the evidence mounts.
There are, in fact, things that I know. I can “give an answer to every man that asketh… a reason of the hope that is in [me].” There may be many things that you and I don’t yet know, as pointed out by my father’s book, for example. But if we consistently commune with God, speaking to Him and striving to listen—and if we do as He teaches, we will build a foundation of testimony sufficient to generate patience for the things we don’t yet know.
I testify that I know that Jesus is our Savior; that peace, goodness, salvation, and patience are through Him; that this Church is led by Him through living prophets and apostles on the earth who hold all necessary and genuine priesthood keys through which we can both make and receive valid covenants with God. Mine is not a perfect knowledge, to be sure, but my choice to believe is broadly and deeply substantiated by things that I have experienced, things that make sense to me, things that I have observed, things that I have felt, and therefore things that I claim with confidence to know.
May you and I consistently exercise a desire to believe, commune with God, and live our lives in such a way that our exercise of faith will be rewarded with greater spiritual knowledge. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
It has been said, with some authority, that “wickedness never was happiness.” I agree. And would add: ignorance isn’t happiness, either. I guess it may be bliss to some people in a way for some period of time—but it isn’t happiness.
Does that mean that knowledge is happiness? Well. Some knowledge is. Jesus said, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent.” Life eternal sounds pretty happy.
On the other hand, happiness through knowledge is conditional. “To be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” Some people seem to handle knowledge better than others. For some, what they know magnifies for them the things they don’t know and they seek to learn from a position of humility. For a few others, being well read can make them proud and arrogant. Knowledge, by itself, is not happiness. How we approach knowledge and what we do with it matters.
One of my very most favorite things about Joseph Smith is how he taught his followers to use their noggins. Would we describe Joseph Smith as a charismatic prophet? I think in some ways, yes. But he was a leader who taught people to think for themselves. He taught faith, but not blind obedience. To Joseph Smith (or, better, through Joseph Smith) can be attributed teachings such as these:
- “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”
- “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom.”
- “The glory of God is intelligence.”
- “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.”
- “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge.”
- “Obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries.”
- “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.”
- “Study it out in your mind.”
- “Study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books.”
And I could go on. This was a man raised in much ignorance—or at least without significant formal education. Yet he studied—and taught—and started schools. I have been told that for the members of the church Joseph Smith restored, there is a positive correlation between level of education and level of activity. There should be!
May I suggest that among the list of things of which we should not be ignorant are these two: First, we should not be ignorant of Joseph Smith—neither of his life nor of his teachings. We ought to know the man—what he did, what he said, what he taught, what others said and thought of him, what he accomplished, etc. Second, we should not be ignorant of spirituality, the workings of “the spirit,” the sources of testimony, and the reality of our need to ultimately determine some critical things by relying on the Spirit to guide our faith and choices.
“For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit.” The Spirit and knowledge work together. They don’t need to be balanced, per se, as much as they both just need to be fully utilized.
Recently, this scripture caught my attention: “Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.” (Matt. 12:29)
These words were spoken by the Savior in the context of casting out devils, but I wonder if a simple application to modern homes and families wouldn’t be appropriate. Isn’t it true that the best way for Satan to take down a family is to bring down the father? I don’t know, but it certainly seems true on too-many occasions.
Men are particularly susceptible to sexual frustration, addiction, and misconduct. Some struggle emotionally to cope with anger and other negative emotions. Men are also more likely than women (at least in my observation) to struggle with faith. A man’s divine tendencies toward the practical and logical can be a double-edged sword. Those thought processes may either strengthen or weaken his resolve to exercise faith.
Meanwhile, the good that can be done by men is truly awesome. Wives desire husbands who are kind and faithful. Like God, himself, many wives are willing to overlook a man’s imperfections when his heart is sincere and true. Children love fathers who are kind, loving, honest – and act like they’re going somewhere that is good and purposeful and includes the family. Not in every case, but generally, wives and children will follow such a man, wanting to be where he is and go where he’s going.
A man’s role is to protect and lead his family. Of course, protecting them means spiritually and emotionally and not just physically. Protecting them doesn’t mean over-protecting them. On the contrary, it means creating a safe environment through which they can increase their own capacity to protect themselves and others.
When a man is, as the Savior mentions, “strong” – meaning less that he has large muscles than that he is faithful, generous, devoted and accepts his role as a stand-in, of sorts, for the Savior – the family is far more likely to be safe in every important sense. If, however, the Adversary can find a way to “bind the strong man” through sin or faithlessness (or both), the risk of the family becoming “spoiled” increases dramatically.
May I – and all the men I know and love – be “strong men” as the Savior desires, as our families desire, and as our true, divine, masculine natures incline us to be. Doing so not only brings safety; it is a critical part of living after the manner of happiness.
Just a quick note here to celebrate a little epiphany I had through the simple wonders of the dictionary!
In our lesson on faith a couple of weeks ago, we included “hope” as one of five things inextricably linked with faith. But, as I admitted to the class, I didn’t really understand that very well because I frequently associate “hope” with things whose outcomes I question and fear. I hope, for example, that I won’t get sick following a couple of nights of inadequate sleep—but I fear that I will. Or I hope that my Mariners won’t give up the tying run in the 8th inning while I type this—but I fear that they will.
How can hope, with all its inherent risks and worries of failure be a component of faith, when faith includes confidence? Well. Turns out I don’t even know what the word hope means.
I Googled “definition: hope.” Up came three definitions (in maybe seven nanoseconds—eight max):
1. A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
2. A feeling of trust.
3. Want something to happen or be the case.
There’s nothing in there about doubt and fear of failure! Then I thought, “I wonder what the word ‘hope’ meant during Joseph Smith’s time.” Of course, Google puts Webster’s 1828 dictionary at our fingertips at the speed of thought. Webster gives two definitions, the first of which includes this helpful explanation as if it were written just for me:
“Hope differs from wish and desire in this, that it implies some expectation of obtaining the good desired, or the possibility of possessing it. Hope therefore always gives pleasure or joy; whereas wish and desire may produce or be accompanied with pain and anxiety.”
His second definition says hope is, “confidence in a future event; the highest degree of well-founded expectation of good; as a hope founded on God’s gracious promises; a scriptural sense.”
So there you go. Or at least, there I go. Hope involves expectation, confidence, wanting something to happen and joy. It is not accompanied by pain and anxiety, two constant conditions of Mariners fans—and two conditions which should not be constants for believing, faithful members of the Church.
Hope and faith are perfectly compatible.
It was said by the writer of Hebrews (which, if I understand correctly, may or may not have been Paul), that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I’ve been hearing that phrase for decades and wondering what, exactly, it means. With the help of this Thursday’s YSA seminar, I think I’m getting closer.
Our LDS Bible Dictionary (which I am guilty of underutilizing) associates at least five things with faith:
- hope (of things unseen)
- confidence (or “assurance of the fulfillment of the things hoped for”)
- action (“true faith always moves its possessor to some kind of physical and mental action”—the “and” in that sentence is noteworthy)
- power (“when occasion warrants”), and
- belief (probably the most obvious—but not the only!—element of faith)
Further, the Bible Dictionary clarifies that “true faith must be based upon correct knowledge” and that if it is to “produce salvation,” faith “must be centered in Jesus Christ.”
So if I fail to hope and believe with confidence or if I fail to act on what I believe, my faith is (partially or entirely) absent or it is a type of false faith. Further, if my faith is based on something that isn’t true, it may still be faith, but it is not true faith—and if it is not centered on Christ, it will neither bring about a remission of my sins nor my salvation.
It is interesting to distinguish between “correct knowledge” and “perfect knowledge.” Alma taught that “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things.” (Alma 32:21) The thing I believe in and act upon must be correct—and I must have a reason to believe it is correct, otherwise it could not be considered knowledge. (And heaven knows we do not believe in blind faith.) Yet my knowledge must be in some way imperfect, lest it be “perfect knowledge” and faith no longer present.
This confirms the idea that faith and agency are—as are testimony and agency—connected. Neither faith nor testimony involves perfect faith, so there is a strong element of choice involved with both. In fact, we come to earth to use our agency to choose faith—faith in redemption and even exaltation through Jesus Christ. In short, we must have reasons for what we believe and exercise faith in, yet those reasons will not be perfected to the point (in this life, at least) at which they squeeze out uncertainty and, hence, choice.
What is a bit baffling to me is why Evangelical Christians are so good at declaring their salvation with firm (to say the least) confidence whereas if you ask a Mormon “Have you been saved?” the answer is often a look of shock, confusion, uneasiness, or embarrassment. Why do we lack the willingness to answer that question positively? Is our faith in Christ partially or entirely absent?
Well, an easy answer is because none of us—Evangelical, LDS, or otherwise—is yet literally and permanently standing in God’s presence, so we cannot factually say that it has happened already. But Mormons struggle with that question even if it is placed in a future context: “How confident do you feel that, if your life ended today, you would end up exalted in the Celestial Kingdom after the Judgment?” Would it be inappropriate for me to look you in the eye in response to that question and answer firmly, “Completely confident”? I don’t think so. In fact, I think we usually ought to and that true faith even demands it (provided I’m not in violation of my covenants—which does not mean that I’m perfect).
So where does confident, assured faith come from? Well, the Bible Dictionary says it comes from learning (“hearing the testimony of those who have faith”) and doing (“obedience to the gospel”). It stands to reason that we must learn about something before we can believe in it and that the more we learn about it and understand it, the greater our reasons may become for believing in it. But learning must also be accompanied by action. Faith is not faith without action; faith without works is very much dead; and without action our learning becomes seriously obstructed.
So as my friend Newell recently taught me, it is a cycle: if I am willing to experiment and exercise faith in something I’ve learned by acting on it, through that action I will learn more, which learning will prompt me to act more, which will in turn teach me more, and so on and so on and so on. There is a “virtuous cycle” of learning and acting and being obedient to what we learn. But when I cease either learning or acting correctly on that learning, I cease spiraling upward and commence sliding backward into a spiral descent.
Jesus taught clearly and succinctly the relationship between faith and action and learning and doing: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine….”
Learn. Do. Exercise agency through hope and belief. Exercise confidence and a sense of assurance in that hope and belief. And power will follow—if, when, and as needed by our Father in Heaven—but in any event to the producing of our salvation if our faith is centered on Christ.
Such faith is liberating. The alternative of “faith in nothing” leads to hopelessness. And the alternative of “faith in myself” leads to high stress, a lack of assurance, and ultimately failure. Faith in Christ, however, including acting on it as best we can, results in confident assurance.
So with respect for my Evangelical friends who don’t believe me and for my Mormon friends who think such statements are inappropriate… I, for one, am not yet saved. But I’m going to be. And you can bank on it.