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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Receiving a Testimony

                My husband and I have been out of state for the past six weeks visiting and helping our children and grandchildren and returned home early Tuesday morning a week ago.  Late that evening our doorbell rang, and I found our Bishop standing at our door and asking me to speak in sacrament meeting the following Sunday.  He gave me the topic of gaining a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and handed me a conference talk given in General Conference by Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.  This is the talk I delivered.

                Elder Hales explained in his talk that leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often asked, “How do I receive a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ?”  He answered that question by saying, “Gaining a testimony and becoming converted begins with study and prayer, then living the gospel with patience and persistence and inviting and waiting upon the Spirit.  The life of Joseph Smith and the pattern of the Restoration are excellent examples of this process.  As you listen to my message today of the events of the Restoration, look for the steps that lead to testimony:  desiring to know the truth, pondering in our hearts, then feeling and obediently following the promptings of the Holy Ghost.”

                Elder Hales then proceeded to tell the story of Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He reminded us that Joseph was born into a family that prayed and studied the Bible.  He reminded us that Joseph became interested in religion in his youth and wanted to know which church he should join but was confused by the teachings of the various priests.  He explained the Great Apostasy and how the Apostles were killed, Christ’s teachings corrupted, and the priesthood taken from the earth.  He reminded us of God’s promise to restore the gospel in the latter-days.

                Elder Hales said, “Over the centuries, the world was prepared for that restoration.  The Bible was translated and printed.  A new land was discovered.  The spirit of reformation swept through the Christian world, and a nation was founded on the principles of freedom.”

                We know from history that the American colonists declared independence from Great Britain in 1776 and battled for eight long and costly years to gain that independence.  The Constitution of the United States was written and signed in 1787.  Only thirty-three years later in 1820, Joseph Smith was asking himself, “If any one [of these churches] be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?”

                Joseph turned to the Bible for the answers to his questions and read in the Epistle of James, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

                In obedience to the instructions, Joseph went to a grove of trees near his home to pray.  As he prayed, “a pillar of light … descended,” brighter than the noonday sun, and “two Personages” appeared.  “One of them spake …, calling [Joseph] by name and said, pointing to the other – This is My Beloved Son.  Hear Him!”

                Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph, answered his questions, and told him that the true Church of Christ was not upon the earth.  Joseph could see that the members of the Godhead were (and are) separate and distinct Beings.  He understood that They knew who he was and would answer his prayers.

                Elder Hales continued:  “Like Joseph, many of us find ourselves seeking the light of truth.  Just as the world was prepared for the Restoration, each of us is prepared to receive the light of the gospel in our own lives….
                “Like Joseph, we must search the scriptures, pray, and exercise faith.”

                I have been an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all my life.  All eight of my great-grandparents crossed the plains to the Great Salt Lake Valley after joining the Church, and my grandparents and parents were active in the Church.  I attended Church meetings regularly, graduated from Primary, earned my Young Women’s awards, and even earned my Golden Gleaner Award as an adult.  I graduated from four years of Seminary at a time when only three years were required for graduation.  I prayed, studied the scriptures, and was married in the Salt Lake Temple.  I tell you these things, not to boast but to prove that I was active.  I followed the teachings of the prophets and had a strong belief in the gospel, but I never sought or received a confirmation from the Holy Ghost.  I was a believer, but I was not a convert.

                My life proves the truthfulness of the following words of President Marion G. Romney: “Membership in the Church and conversion are not necessarily synonymous.”

                I became a convert when I was thirty years old, married, and the mother of three children under the age of four.  At that time I was serving in the presidency of the Primary in the Anchorage Third Ward.  During one fast and testimony meeting, I managed to pay enough attention to the testimonies to realize that many children were going to the podium to bear their testimonies.  One child after another said, “I know Joseph Smith was a prophet” or “I know the Church is true.”  I began to silently ask questions such as “Do they really know these things or are they simply repeating what they have heard other people say?” and I eventually asked, “Do I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet and that the Church is true?”  I thought and thought and then realized that I could not say “I know.”  I believed these things, but I did not know for sure.

                That very day I embarked upon a six-month quest to learn for myself whether or not I had learned, believed, and lived the truth.  I believed strongly with absolutely no doubts, but I needed to know for myself. 

                I knew enough to know that I had to start with Joseph Smith and learn for myself whether or not he was a true prophet of God.  I began to read every book and article I could find about him.  I guess the Lord was trying my sincerity because several weeks passed before the Holy Ghost whispered to me that I needed to study the Book of Mormon if I really wanted to know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet.

It isn’t that I had never read the Book of Mormon previously because I had read the book numerous times; I knew the story line and could even quote scriptures from it.  This time was different because I was on a journey to know the truth.  I did not start my study with First Nephi but began with Moroni 10:4-5:  “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
“And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”

I then read the experience of Alma and the teachings of Abinadi.  I read the conversion story of Alma the Younger and the sons of King Mosiah.  I read the conversion stories of King Lamoni and his father.  Even though I was asking God “with real intent” and had “faith in Christ” that I would receive an answer, I still had not received a confirmation from the Spirit.

I next studied Third Nephi and the resurrected Christ’s visit to the Americas.  I read and prayed every day.  I searched, and I pondered.  I needed to know.  I eventually arrived at Third Nephi 27 where the disciples asked Jesus Christ what they should call His church and read the following in verses 4-8:

“And the Lord said unto them:  Verily, verily, I say unto you, why is it that the people should murmur and dispute because of this thing?
“Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name?  For by this name shall ye be called at the last day;
“And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.
“Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name; therefore ye shall call the church in my name; and ye shall call upon the Father in my name that he will bless the church for my sake.
“And how be it my church save it be called in my name?  For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.”  (Emphasis added.)

                 I knew that the name of our church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I knew that we pray, speak, and do all things in the name of Jesus Christ.  I pondered upon the experience of Joseph Smith and his vision of God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ.  I thought about how he translated the Book of Mormon in a short period of time and then re-established the Church of Jesus Christ on earth under the direction of Christ.  I remembered that the Church had started with just six official members and had grown to more than a million members.  [There are now more than 14 million members of the Church.]

                I realized that I had found the missing piece to my puzzle.  I knelt beside my bed in prayer and pleaded with Heavenly Father to give me a confirmation of the truthfulness of what I had read.  In my pleading, I asked Him to help me to know that I know.

                I was still praying when I began to feel a wonderful warm feeling.  The Holy Ghost filled my soul so completely that I felt like I was glowing, almost like a giant light bulb, with a bright light shining from every part of my being.  I thanked Heavenly Father for confirming to me what I had believed all my life, ended my prayer, and sat upon my bed.  The Holy Ghost continued to be with me for a long time, and I basked in the light.  I felt absolutely wonderful because I could finally say, “I know” - and I knew that I knew!

                A few years ago I wrote my testimony for my children as part of their Christmas present.  After sharing my conversion story, I wrote:  “I have relied on this testimony many times in past years and have even gone back to Heavenly Father for reconfirmation numerous times.  Over the years, I realized that this testimony meant much more than I thought at first.”  Then I shared some of the other truths I know because I know Joseph Smith is a true prophet and that the Book of Mormon is true.

                President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke about how a testimony of the Book of Mormon is the foundation to much more knowledge.  He said, “I repeat, if the Book of Mormon is true, the Church is true, for the same authority under which this sacred record came to light is present and manifest among us today.  It is a restoration of the Church set up by the Savior in Palestine.  It is a restoration of the Church set up by the Savior when He visited this continent as set forth in this sacred record.”

                Elder Douglas L. Callister of the Quorum of Seventy stated:  “The testimony of others may initiate and nourish the desire for faith and testimony, but eventually every individual must find out for himself.  [Emphasis added.]  None can permanently endure on borrowed light….
                “It is a grand thing to know – and to know that you know and that the light has not been borrowed from another.”

                Elder Callister said that as long as we “casually read and pray” we will “never” find out the truth, “worlds without end,” but if we “set aside a period of fasting and pleading, the truth will be burned into [our] heart, and [we] will know that [we know]….
                “If you want to know that you know, a price must be paid.  And you alone must pay that price….”

                Brothers and sisters, I paid the price and can say “I know” - and I know that I know.  This knowledge changed my life – not outwardly but inwardly.  I continued to follow the same patterns as I had done previously, but I was spiritually stronger and more committed.  I know that the Book of Mormon is a true witness of Jesus Christ and that we can move closer to God by reading this great book.  I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is truly the Church of Christ that was restored to the earth in the latter days.  I know that there is a living prophet upon the earth, even Thomas S. Monson, who leads us and guides us in the paths we should follow.  I know that God lives and that He knows each one of His children by name and loves each one of us.  I testify of the truthfulness of these things because I know they are true.  I encourage you to pay the price and learn the truth for yourself.  You can know – and know that you know!

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