This is Wayne’s conversion story...
When I was about 22, living a life of alcohol, drugs, and contention with the girl I was living with, I wanted to find a way out of the misery. When I searched for solutions, all I seemed to find were ads promising love, fame or fortune.
One night, my girlfriend and I found ourselves on our knees. Something which we had never felt before had filled the room, a divine presence. The powerful feeling lasted for just a few minutes, but we both knew it was of God.
I began to feel and experience many miraculous things from that time on. A deep desire to read the Bible led me specifically to the New Testament. But, after about two months, these great and amazing feelings seemed to fade. Still, I desired to join a church and be associated with good people. My girlfriend chose not to act upon the spiritual experience we shared that night, and I moved out. The Spirit never lingered with her like it did with me. It seems the experience was meant for me and not so much for her.
From my studies, I had concluded that there must be only one true church and that this church would have to believe in the whole of the Bible. I set out to find this church with questions in mind, which had come to me while studying the New Testament. I was raised in the Anglican faith, so that was my first stop. I didn’t feel that the people I spoke with were able to answer even my first question, so my next stop was the Catholic Church. At this point, I was certain this must be the one, because my mother was raised Catholic, and I knew her to do no wrong. Again, I was not receiving answers that satisfied my thirst for the truth.
After about two months of talking with individuals from all kinds of denominations, I was on the verge of giving up my search and forming my own church. Oddly enough, the Yellow Pages turned out to be the source for finding the true church on earth. I looked up “churches” and searched for a name I thought might be what I was looking for. After talking unproductively to some Jehovah’s Witnesses, I noticed “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” or Mormon Church. The phone rang, and a Mormon janitor answered the phone. I proceeded to question him. To my complete and utter amazement, all of my questions were answered to my satisfaction. Somehow, even this janitor, with his knowledge of his faith, knew more about the kingdom of God than the trained clergymen I had spoken with.
After talking with the janitor, I remembered my mother saying to me that one of our neighbors was a Mormon, so I made the trip over to his house and found him home. I told him my story and he said he would contact the missionaries, and I left. I waited several days and then called the missionaries myself. They came over shortly after that and we talked about what had happened to me. They knew it was of God, and we had many wonderful visits as they prepared me for baptism.
The hardest thing for me was to give up cigarettes. I had quit after much effort, but had started again as I was to be baptized. I remember well, how I did not feel the Spirit at all at my baptism or confirmation, most likely because I had started smoking again. After about two months the Elders Quorum President and one of his counselors paid a visit, knowing about my smoking problem, and asked if I might want a priesthood blessing. I of course agreed, and not long after that I woke up one morning and automatically went for a smoke. I got a little angry at myself for that, and this was when the blessing took effect. I had no desire or craving for three days. After that, the cravings came back but I was able to withstand them.
Another addictive habit I had a tough time with was pornography. This was easier to overcome than smoking was, but it took much longer. I think this one is overcome through the passing of time. The more time that goes by, the more I forget the images placed in my mind until they are gone. I also realize this sexual desire is natural but needs to be controlled. Over time it gets easier, as one becomes more centered on the gospel of Christ.
After over thirty years as a member of the Church I cannot say it’s been easy. The first seven years I struggled very much trying to find happiness. After about three months, attending church services became very boring, and I often wondered why I was not feeling any joy or happiness. I was doing all that was required of me such as attending the temple and performing by callings etc., but for some reason, I was not feeling the Spirit. I knew I must be doing something wrong but could not see what it was. I stopped going to church for a long time. About six years ago I decided to give it a go again and started to attend some of the church meetings here and there. After over a year of luke-warm commitment I wiped the dust off of my scriptures and placed them on the table. Still wondering why I had not found the joy of the gospel, I decided I would read the scriptures in a different manner than the way I used to. I decided to try reading them the same way one would read a favorite book. I used to read a chapter a day. I started reading the Book of Mormon, and after about twenty minutes I started to feel the Holy Ghost. I thought to myself, could it be that this is what I had been doing wrong, not reading the word of God correctly? The next day I tried the same thing and found that my assumption was correct…Today, four years later, I still prayerfully read in the Book of Mormon, as well as other scriptures, and now enjoy the companionship of the Spirit almost constantly. Church is not boring anymore, and life is great. There are still struggles, but as I try to improve, it’s wonderful to feel God at my side…..
The following is one Mormon’s reflections on faith. This is from Azure, a member of Winder Stake in Utah:
I have been reading Sheri Dew’s book God Wants a Powerful People. In it she says that accessing God’s power begins with our faith. I have thought a lot about that. There is a scripture in Moroni that describes this relationship.
“I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever” (Moroni 10:7).
I have been thinking about how to access the power of faith in my life through my prayers, thoughts and actions. A lot of great books have come out on how our thoughts and beliefs can change our environment and give us greater power and peace. They contain a great deal of truth and can give people a foundation and basic understanding. But, in the light of the gospel we have the key to all true power, strength, peace and knowledge.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave a talk on Faith in April Conference of 1994. In it, he reminded us that the first principle of the gospel is not “faith.” The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith, like love requires an object. It must be faith in something or someone. If we think we have faith, we should ask: faith in whom or faith in what? For some, faith is nothing more than faith in themselves. That is only self-confidence or self-centeredness. Others have faith in faith, which is something like relying on the power of positive thinking or betting on the proposition that we can get what we want by manipulating the powers within us. That is what is missing in all of the great books and programs on spiritual power. They have value, and so much of the truth, but they are missing the focus, the true object of our faith. Elder Oaks teaches that When we try to develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ rather than merely cultivating faith as an abstract principle of power, we understand the meaning of the Savior’s words: “If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me” (Moroni 7:33).
I know this is true and that we can have greater access to this power in our lives. Christ repeatedly taught his apostles about the possibilities of faith. Elder Talmage, in Jesus the Christ, wrote that the achievements possible to faith are limited or conditioned by the genuineness, the purity, the unmixed quality of that faith. In Matthew 17:20, Jesus taught, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”
Elder James E Talmage in Jesus the Christ explains that the comparison between effective faith and a grain of mustard seed is one of quality rather than of quantity; it connotes living, virile faith, like unto the seed, however small, from which a great plant may spring. So, remembering that when we speak of faith, we are talking about faith in Christ, how can we tap into this power in our lives?
The April 1983 Liahona contains an article by Elder Gene R. Cook on “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” In it he offers six suggestions for how we can use the power of faith to bless ourselves and others.
First, be believing. Elder Cook cites the example of Nephi who did believe all the words spoken by his father. Are we, like Nephi, listening and believing the words of the prophets, sometimes praying for additional understanding and listening for the still small voice? Or do we listen instead to other voices—the wisdom of the world or our own fears and doubts? As President Hinckley was leaving for his mission, his father gave him a piece of paper with the words “be not afraid, only believe.” His faith was evidenced by the way he lived. King Benjamin taught his people to “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend” (Mosiah 4:9). We can trust him. He understands and loves us completely. As we listen to our leaders and study the scriptures, we will come to know our savior. As we learn more of his mission and attributes, our faith and confidence in him will increase.
Next, we must commit. Elder Bednar counseled that to increase our faith we must increase our commitment. Elder Cook cites Nephi in the Book of Mormon and his commitment to do what the Lord had commanded. . Remember that all things are possible to him that believeth. Elder Cook counsels, Commit yourself in advance to what you righteously desire and the righteous exercising of faith will bring it about. The challenge for me at least is to decide what I really want. Elder Cook says many people go forth lost in the world with only a vague idea of what they would have from life. We have to choose a course to pursue and then exercise faith through our diligence. In 1 Nephi 7: 12, we are reminded that “the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him.” In the reference book True to the Faith, it says that “whenever you work toward a worthy goal, you exercise faith.”
I recently had an experience with this. I decided to join some friends in a month of goal setting in which we wrote down many goals and made a chart on the wall to keep track of our performance. I wasn’t “100 percent” in every area. In fact, several things dropped off the chart completely. But, the things that were most important to me—prayer, scripture study, temple attendance and journal writing became a greater, more consistent part of my life, and I have been richly blessed because I chose and committed to pursue these goals.
Elder Cook next says that we must do all in our power to fulfill our part, and pray as if it all depended on the Lord. In 3 Nephi 18: 20, we read “And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.” Elder Bednar at a Ricks College devotional said that Faith in prayer is evidenced in part when we kneel down. More importantly however, faith is reflected when we get up and work diligently to accomplish that for which we have prayed. For me, the question has often been, how can I have faith in what I ask if I am not sure it is God’s will? Elder Bednar in April conference reminded us that each of us needs God’s help in surrendering our will to Him. He also gave the encouragement that humble, earnest, and persistent prayer enables us to recognize and align ourselves with the will of our Heavenly Father.
Next , He counsels us to expect trials. Remember that ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith. These words have come to my mind recently, in moments when I felt like giving up, or discarding hope for some of the blessings I had been asking for. The witness does come. I have seen the Lord’s hand in my life, restoring my faith through the words of priesthood blessings, or the comfort and encouragement of a friend, or sometimes just with a renewed faith in his will and timing for my life. I know that the trials make us stronger and better able to meet the challenges of our lives. They also make us better able to serve.
Finally, Elder Cook says that we should expect the Lord to act according to his holy will and our faith. He wants us to draw on his power. He also reminds us that sometimes when a prayer seems unanswered, it is because it is being answered in a greater way than we can perceive. Alma counsels us to ask for “whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive” (Alma 7:13). We must remember to recognize his hand in our lives. He is always there to bless us. He has much greater things in mind for our lives than we can imagine. God is in the details of our lives and cares about everything that matters to us. Our faith and commitment will be tested, but He is listening and will always bless us with what is best for us—for our eternal good. He wants us to pray for the things we most desire. I know he will bless us with the things that will lead to our greatest happiness. I know that Miracles will happen in our lives as we exercise faith in our Savior through our diligent efforts and sincere prayers.
One’s testimony of the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a static thing. It can grow or fail, depending on how one nurtures it. The following is a reflection on the nature of testimony, written by Aaron. At the time Aaron wrote this, he was a student at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies:
A remarkable feat of engineering is the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, U.S.A. The bridge was part of an initiative to alleviate ferry traffic and make the flow of people and materials easier to get around the San Francisco area. It was first opened in 1937, and at the time was the largest suspension bridge in the world, measuring 2.7 kilometers.. It was painted a beautiful vermillion orange to enhance its visibility in the fog as well as protect it from the high salt content in the air. Festivals commemorating the opening lasted for 7 days with speeches from city leaders, music, dancing, and parades.
For the next 30 years this architectural achievement, which became a symbol of the city, stood virtually untouched. By 1968 it was clear that the bridge was suffering from massive amounts of corrosion. A program was put into effect to completely repaint the structure. Since that time a permanent crew of 17 iron workers and 38 painters work continuously to stop the corrosion and maintain the integrity of the bridge. Without this constant maintenance, it is most certain that this structure would succumb to the corrosive salt, powerful winds, and the constant pull of gravity.
In many ways the Golden Gate Bridge is analogous to our testimonies. It takes a great deal of time, effort, and patience to build a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and if one is not careful in protecting it from corrosive elements, it will fall.
Building our Testimonies
It was not a simple task to create the Golden Gate Bridge. Likewise our testimonies are often built in pieces. Elder Richard G. Scott, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, “Testimony is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions. Those choices are made with trusting faith in things that are believed and, at least initially, are not seen.”
It is an interesting thing that we obey because we have a testimony, but to gain a testimony we must obey. It is for this reason that Mormon missionaries are directed to give require commitments of those who investigate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is the most effective method of conversion, because it brings people out of the world. They themselves must make the choice to believe, to follow the promptings of the holy spirit and the direction of the missionaries. They must choose to enter into the cycle of obeying and building a testimony — building a testimony and obeying the commandments of God.
In my life this has very much been the case. I cannot think of a time I gained elements of my testimony without first obeying. I can remember the specific time of day, and who was there when I received a strong witness that keeping the Sabbath day holy was a true commandment. I was thirteen and sitting in the back seat of our family car as we were driving to visit my older brother and his family. As we were driving, I looked out the window and saw all the people shopping, working, and going about their daily lives. I mentioned to my mother up front that I was glad we as a family and church set aside Sunday as a special day of worship. My mother turned to me and said, “that is because you have a testimony of that gospel principle”. I remember having a unique feeling of peace in that car as the Holy Ghost witnessed to me that it was true, that the law of the Sabbath is a commandment from God. If I didn’t have a testimony before, I most certainly did after that car ride. Since that day, I have come to obey the law of the Sabbath, not because it was a family tradition, but because I had felt that confirmation from God through the Holy Ghost, that I should obey.
Elder John K. Carmack, of the First Quorum of the Seventy of the Mormon Church, explained the principle of obeying and receiving this way in a talk given in 1988: “When I declare that I know this gospel is true, that Christ lives, and that Ezra Taft Benson is God’s prophet, I am saying, in effect, that doing and serving have brought me the conviction that this work is true.”
I love it. I love that gaining a testimony is that simple. We simply obey and receive. Anyone can do that!
Growing up I always felt that the Church was true. I felt like I had a fairly normal upbringing. I went to LDS seminary and church meetings. I read the Book of Mormon and felt excited to serve a mission. When I got into the Missionary Training Center, however, I felt overwhelmed. As I was learning about the doctrines that I would be teaching the next two years (the Atonement of Jesus Christ, Restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and commandments of God) I began to worry. I was worried that my testimony would not be strong enough to bring the spirit to those I would be teaching. I began to pray and fast that I would be blessed with a strong testimony to teach from. As I prayed one evening, I received the feeling that I had been given enough and needed to just press forward. That was not the answer I wanted or expected. However, I continued to work hard in my studies at the MTC and pray with faith. Toward the end of my stay, I was in the celestial room of the Provo Utah Temple. As I was praying, I looked up and saw the painting of the Savior. At that moment I felt an overwhelming love for the Savior and his Atonement. At that moment it felt so real to me! I felt that I was not just one of billions of God’s children but that I was an individual whom God loved and cared for deeply. I often would reflect on that powerful spiritual experience as I would testify to those whom I was teaching. God did answer my prayer.
Maintaining a Testimony
Just like the Golden Gate Bridge, if a person leaves his or her testimony untouched, it will rust, deteriorate, and become useless in the moment the person needs it the most.
Instead of focusing on how to maintain a testimony, let’s look at it from the other side, that is, how to destroy a testimony. Elder Charles Didier of the Quorum of the Seventy gives an easy-to-follow 6 step program:
“Do not pray: the door to revelation will be closed. Do not be humble but listen to your own superior voice. Do not participate in the ordinances of the gospel, but follow the practices of the world. Do not follow Church leaders but be critical of them. Do not listen to the prophets and follow their counsel but interpret their declarations according to your own desires. Do not obey the commandments but live according to your own appetites and desires.”
It is not coincidence that the process of gaining a testimony is the same process of maintaining one. So perhaps my analogy of a testimony being like the Golden Gate Bridge is not perfect, since we are never done building our testimony and thus maintaining our testimonies. Elder Carmack of the Seventy explains in his conference address “I have a whole box of unanswered questions, none of them threatening to my testimony. New questions enter that box regularly. Others come out of the box, yielding to both study and experience.”
If a General Authority has unanswered questions that he works on through study and experience, then I for sure have unanswered questions that I need to work on! The Lord promises that someday those who keep His commandments will know all things:
For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory. And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom. Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations (Doctrine and Covenants 76:5 – 8).
It is my hope that I will continually be building and maintaining a strong testimony that will become the anchor of my life. Something that will help me and those around me come closer to God, and be the sustaining force of a successful life. This is my wish for every member of the Church, especially new converts.
This article has been used on the following website: http://www.meetmormonmissionaries.org/833/growing-and-maintaining-a-testimony