Saturday, April 20, 2013

How I know the Book of Mormon is true.

I am writing a talk for a speaking assignment in Church tomorrow, and I felt like I should go back and read the last talk I gave, which was in January of last year. On this blog I have shared some thoughts and collected some interesting quotes, but haven't recorded a lot of my testimony. Perhaps that is the most valuable thing I can preserve and share.

I was asked to speak about my testimony of the Book of Mormon. It’s kind of funny; my gut feeling about this topic has always been one of inadequacy. I don’t have a impressive story about how I came to know that the Book is true. I don’t have a whole list of evidences or of striking experiences. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I got a testimony. And yet, I can say with truth that I know that the Book of Mormon is true, that it was prepared by true prophets for our day and brought forth by another true prophet by the power of God. And so it is that process of gaining a testimony that I want to talk about, because I think that it might be something that many of us share, and is also instructive in a practical way for those who have doubts and want to gain a testimony.

President Packer of the Quorum of the 12 described his experience this way, and it was very similar to my own:

"When I first read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover, I read the promise that if I “would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if [the things I had read were] true; and if [I would] ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he [would] manifest the truth of it unto [me], by the power of the Holy Ghost” ( Moro. 10:4 ). I tried to follow those instructions, as I understood them.

If I expected a glorious manifestation to come at once as an overpowering experience, it did not happen. Nevertheless, it felt good, and I began to believe."

He continued,

My experience has been that a testimony does not burst upon us suddenly. Rather it grows, as Alma said, from a seed of faith. “It will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow” ( Alma 32:30 ). If you nourish it, it will grow; and if you do not nourish it, it will wither (see Alma 32:37–41 ).

Do not be disappointed if you have read and reread and yet have not received a powerful witness. You may be somewhat like the disciples spoken of in the Book of Mormon who were filled with the power of God in great glory “and they knew it not” ( 3 Ne. 9:20 ).
(Source here)

That is kind of how I felt during my mission. I hadn’t had one single powerful witness that I could relate to others, yet I found that I could testify with power and truth. My testimony hadn’t come suddenly, but it was there nonetheless.

Most of us are all too familiar with the promise made by Moroni that Elder Packer mentioned. That is the part that I always focused on growing up: if we ask sincerely, we will get a testimony. But when you look at the chapter as a whole, you see that Moroni gives a lot of other instructions that teach us how to gain a testimony.

Jumping back to verse 3:

“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, ... that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.”

What I get from that is that Moroni wants us to come to know the nature and workings of God. That isn’t a one-time exercise; it’s something we continually study and ponder. How has He shown mercy to His children in the past? How has he answered them? For Elijah, God didn’t speak in a rushing wind or an earthquake or a fire, but in a still small voice. How has He shown mercy to me in my life? When I ponder all of this, a lot of good feelings come. They aren’t strong, overpowering feelings. I feel uplifted, loved, peaceful, and grateful. That helps me to recognize the kind of feelings that Moroni wants me to look for in my answer.

It helps me to record these feelings and thoughts in my journeal when I study, so that I can heed Moroni’s counsel to remember and also show the Lord that I value what He is teaching me.

Back to Moroni: After making his famous promise, he explains more about how the power of the Holy Ghost works. In verse 6, he says “whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.

In reading the Book of Mormon, I do feel like its contents are just and true. So many verses have helped me to understand Christ and His Atonement and to feel His love for me. Just a few nights ago some of the words of Abinadi taught me new things about Christ that I hadn’t really focused in on before:

He “suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people. And after all this, after working many mighty miracles among the children of men, he shall be ... led, crucified, and slain...
“And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men—Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice.”

When I read that, I imagined Christ having willingly done all of that for me so that he could stick up for me. He could understand me. He could represent me at the bar of God, having Atoned for my sins so that I could inherit all that He has. That is so powerful and humbling. I was brought closer to Christ through reading that in the Book of Mormon.

Going on, in verses 7 and 8, Moroni gives another criteria:
“And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore 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.

“And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not he gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.”

So now I have to ask myself, have I experienced the gifts of the Spirit through the Book of Mormon? It certainly teaches about them—who exhibited greater faith than Nephi? Greater knowledge and wisdom than King Benjamin? The gift to translate and see like Mosiah? The ministering of angels like the children who were there during Christ’s visit?

Then as I read the Book of Mormon, I experience these gifts myself. I gain knowledge as I study and recognize areas in my life that I would be wise to change. My faith increases as I read about others who so boldly followed the Savior. I grow to understand things in new ways. I gain foresight into my future and where my choices will lead me. I have moments where I get lost in the stories and can almost feel what those people would have felt. And since Moroni tells me in verse 18 that “every good gift cometh of Christ,” I know that these gifts come because the Book of Mormon truly testifies of Christ.

All of these help me to recognize those simple, quiet ways that the Spirit tells me that the Book is true. They don’t all happen all at once, and sometimes I don’t even recognize them while they are happening, but I can recognize the accumulation of those things as a strong testimony of truth.

As powerful as all of those things are, I think that Moroni closes the chapter describing an even more powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon. In verses 32 and 33, the third and second-to-last verse of the whole book, he says this:

“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

“And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.”
These verses describe action and change, not just asking and receiving.

The strongest testimony that I have from the Book of Mormon is that it has changed my life, and continues to change my life. As I have studied in the Book of Mormon, I have learned principles. When I try them out in my life, I have gained greater peace and happiness, and seen that the results were exactly as the Book promised. It is this process that Alma talks about; he describes the Word, in this case the Book of Mormon, as a seed. He doesn’t say that we simply have to ask whether the seed is good. Rather, we have to exercise faith to plant it and nurture it and water it and feed it and really try it out—experiment upon it. Then when it grows, our faith turns to knowledge, or testimony.

In a talk to seminary teachers, Elder Eyring described the process this way:

“[The] challenge is not to prove that the Book of Mormon is true but to prove to God that they —the students—are true. When they do this, they will know the book is true. And when they prove that they will do what the book says, God will tell them more:

“And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them.” ( 3 Ne. 26:9).

He went on,

“[Y]ou will realize you do not prove [the Book of Mormon] through arguments. You do not even prove it through great examples or stories. Those will help, but your students will prove the Book of Mormon by saying, “I believe it is true; I will try it.” Once they have proved themselves to God, then the proof will come to them because they will see the spiritual fruit."

"The Book of Mormon is about people proving their belief to God little by little. And then He confirms their belief and gives them more."

This, to me, is how you gain a true testimony of the Book of Mormon. No amount of grand spiritual experiences will be stronger than the evidence of our changed lives and hearts. If I had an angel come tell me it was true, you may or may not believe me when I told you. But if you can see my life, my choices, and the results of those choices, you will see clearly why I know that book is true.

Elder Eyring continues:

"“And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;

“And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.”

Now, that is the change. It is not to be a little better. It is not to know a little more. It is to be born again, to be changed by the power of the Atonement.

You and I know that if a person will read the Book of Mormon, it will describe that change and how to have it.”

Having experienced these kinds of changes in my own life, I have gained that witness that the Book of Mormon is true. I feel that I could say what Elder Holland said in his memorable October 2009 Conference talk:

"Now, I did not sail with the brother of Jared in crossing an ocean, settling in a new world. I did not hear King Benjamin speak his angelically delivered sermon. I did not proselyte with Alma and Amulek nor witness the fiery death of innocent believers. I was not among the Nephite crowd who touched the wounds of the resurrected Lord, nor did I weep with Mormon and Moroni over the destruction of an entire civilization. But my testimony of this record and the peace it brings to the human heart is as binding and unequivocal as was theirs. Like them, “[I] give [my name] unto the world, to witness unto the world that which [I] have seen. ” And like them, “[I] lie not, God bearing witness of it.”"  -Jeffrey R. Holland

The main message I want to convey is that for me, and I think for a lot of us, getting a testimony of the Book of Mormon isn't about pursuing one convincing experience. It is about recognizing how the book shapes our lives on a daily basis when we invite it in and try out its precepts. It is about allowing it to change your life. Then, when we see that our life is transformed, we will know without a doubt that the Book is true and that it really was divinely inspired and prepared for our day. We will know that Joseph Smith was who he said he was and did what he said he did. We will know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true and living Church upon the earth. And we will be on the path to return Home to our Father, having the image of Christ in our countenances.

I bear this testimony in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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