Sunday, August 5, 2012

Fortifying Your Testimony: Never letting it come to a point that you no longer believe

There's a common theme I’ve heard lately: Good members of the church with testimonies leaving the church for many reasons.

When we hear these stories we could ask ourselves, "How can I be assured that this won’t happen to me?"

I can’t imagine it would, but I assume that some others who have left the church felt the same way at one point, and I want to know what to prepare myself against it. I feel the Spirit so strong regularly, and I know how much I need it.  I don’t ever want anything to change that goodness in my life and twist it to take it away. 

In Stake Conference at one of the evening Adult sessions a year or so ago, President Duckworth shared an example from his life.  He had some good friends who he had served with in Leadership callings in the church that he really admired and respected who just all of a sudden announced that they no longer had a testimony and weren’t attending church anymore.  His heart was broken and he had to take a deep look at his life.

It was a wonderful talk, and he gave us a couple of great ways to protect ourselves from letting things like that happen. Some of these are almost identical to the things that Bishop Causse included in the Ensign article, Keeping the faith in a world of confusion.

Four things we can do to fortify our testimonies and remain strong

1. Ground ourselves in the things that we know are true.
The Lord, nevertheless, supplies us with the knowledge necessary for our salvation and exaltation. He promises, “Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you” (D&C 88:64). We receive these answers progressively, “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (2 Nephi 28:30), depending on our needs and our capacity to comprehend. ~ Bishop Gerald Causse
2. Get comfortable not knowing the answers to all things
    (or as Bishop Causse said it: Accept unanswered questions)
Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t study and learn and grapple with questions that we don’t understand.  We can ponder, and suffer, and study it out, but at the end of the day, we may need to realize that we don’t have the Lord’s wisdom and perspective yet, and we must accept that.
Along with this, I’d like to point out that anytime we are hearing something or learning something that we can tell the Spirit has withdrawn from us, we need to stop whatever it is right there until we can learn again with the Spirit present.  Satan uses all sorts of tools (bitterness, anti-mormon discussions, etc) to try to make us pull up our roots of faith.
Studying the word of God protects us from the influence of false doctrines. The Lord said, “For unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.”

Each of us may experience moments of personal doubt. These doubts are rarely alleviated by the search for rational explanations. For example, some scientific or archaeological discoveries may reinforce our testimonies of scripture, but spiritual knowledge cannot be proven by logic or physical evidence. ~ Bishop Gerald Causse
3. Accept imperfection.
    In other members and in our church leaders. In our church’s history AND future. In our own church culture.
All members of the Church at some time in their lives face moments that test the sincerity and strength of their testimonies. Braving these trials of our faith helps us stand firm in a world that is falling more and more into the depths of confusion. This confusion is evident in the barrage of messages that surround us. With the advent of the Internet, for example, an uninterrupted avalanche of contradictory opinions and information invades our everyday lives. These contradictions can become disconcerting and paralyzing. ~ Richard G. Scott, The Power of a Strong Testimony
4. Nourish Your Testimony. 
    Find opportunities to feel the Spirit. Study the word of God, including the words of the Prophet.
    Experiment on the Word, and stick with it during trials of faith
Honestly evaluate your personal life. How strong is your own testimony? Is it truly a sustaining power in your life, or is it more a hope that what you have learned is true? Is it more than a vague belief that worthwhile concepts and patterns of life seem to be reasonable and logical? Such mental assent will not help when you face the serious challenges that will inevitably come to you. Does your testimony guide you to correct decisions? To do so, fundamental truths must become part of the very fiber of your character. They must be an essential part of your being, more treasured than life itself. If an honest assessment of your own testimony confirms that it is not as strong as it should be, how can it be strengthened? ~ Richard G. Scott
Do we constantly ask ourselves these questions and check-in spiritually?
A strong testimony gives peace, comfort, and assurance. It generates the conviction that as the teachings of the Savior are consistently obeyed, life will be beautiful, the future secure, and there will be capacity to overcome the challenges that cross our path. A testimony grows from understanding truth, distilled from prayer and the pondering of scriptural doctrine. It is nurtured by living those truths in faith and the secure confidence that the promised results will be obtained.  ~ Richard G. Scott
The parable of the ten virgins teach about spiritual self-reliance

Thinking about storing up experiences made me turn to the Parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25, and I read it and started to really study it when I found a talk given to Relief Society sisters on how we can apply the parable to ourselves.

In the parable, ten maidens are waiting to join in a bridal celebration. The bridegroom hasn't come and no one knows when he will arrive. The women, as was the custom, have lamps with them to carry to contribute to this great event. At first, the lamps are all lit and glowing. But the party is late and the maidens fall asleep. All of a sudden, in the middle of the night the call comes to light the lamps. "The bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him."

And then came the point of reckoning. Five of the maidens have extra oil to light their lamps and five don't. (The Hebrews described lighting the lamp as "trimming" in other words, "preparing.") The five who are unprepared, beg for some extra oil from their sisters who are well supplied; their pleas are refused. They race to the market to buy some oil to start their lamps. In the meantime, the bridegroom arrives, the five wise, well-prepared maidens join in the celebration and the doors are closed. When the other five arrive—late—they are not admitted, "Lord, Lord, open to us," they say. "But he answered, I know you not."

This parable can seem to have some puzzling aspects. Why didn't the virgins share? Sharing is usually a good thing. Why was the party given so late? Who was in charge? Where was the charity? And how could they lock the door so heartlessly? Repentance is a powerful tool why can’t it be used here?
Here are two questions you have often heard and said:” What do you need?” and “How can I help?” How many times have you heard these? How many times have you said them? 
So now I ask: "What do you need?" My answer is: "Oil." 
Oil for our lamps is our spirituality, our testimony, our spiritual self-reliance, our centering on eternal perspectives and our personal commitment to Jesus Christ. When our lamps are full of oil and we have filled our reserves, we are full of the Holy Ghost. 
Oil brings many images to mind.  Olive oil was considered the dearest, brightest and most steady oil. 
These are the words I would use to describe so many women, like you, who have prepared and are continuing to prepare. Women who accept callings and serve with vitality and dedication. Women who are at their meetings, ready to learn, to contribute from their own personal store of knowledge and testimony. Women who say, "What do you need?" and then find it, and do it. They have oil to fill the lamp. Often they do little things, and those things matter so much. Like someone saying "I'll drive," or a sister bringing me the first daffodils in bloom. 
Our sisters are always applying the counsel in the Doctrine and Covenants: "Wherefore be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with you, that you may be ready at the coming of the Bridegroom" (D&C 33:17). ~ Elaine L. Jack
Now, the second question, "How can I help?" Clearly we can provide a place for the "tired and poor" to begin to build their own oil reserves. We also can add to the supply some of the brightest beams of goodness on the earth today, and that's you, the women of the Relief Society.

The Ten Virgins represent members of the Church—and half will not be ready with enough oil when the Lord comes—that is sobering! Imagine our own Relief Society in our stake. What would we do without some of our sisters? This is a parable for us as members of the Church, sisters, and we must heed the warning.

Remember the question, "What do you need?" The answer is oil.
Can you share your oil sisters? Can you reach into your soul and share your ten years of morning prayer or family prayer? Can you share the personal peace of regular temple attendance and paying tithes? Or the spiritual truths that have been borne to you as you have visited sisters in their homes? Can you share the strengths that are formed on a mission or from supporting a missionary? You can share what you have learned, but you cannot share the spiritual power that is in your soul. Not one sister in this Church will be saved on the merits or abundance of another. These individual efforts invite the Holy Ghost to be with us to prompt us in righteousness. ~ Elaine L. Jack
The conclusion of the Parable of the Ten Virgins is significant. It says, "Watch, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh." Watch, sisters is a call to be ready. Five were prepared. The other five misinterpreted their time. "This is the prepare to meet God."

But we can overcome the world trying to get us to loosen our roots, and use up our oil.  We can work on storing so much oil, deepening our roots and gaining stronger and stronger testimonies so that we will not be left dry.  So that we will still be faithful when the time comes. 

And we can help share our experiences with each other.  If we do nothing else, we need to try to help each sister in our ward store up their own oil in their lamps, because this gospel has all the answers to everything that they will come up against and need.


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