Sunday, July 31, 2011

Developing and Maintaining a Personal Testimony

I stand before you today because Jesus Christ lives and is our savior. I know this. I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and translated the Book of Mormon from gold plates kept safe in the ground for many years. I know that Book of Mormon is true. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church on the earth that contains the fullness of the gospel and is lead by a modern day prophet, Thomas S. Monson.
How do I know these things? I have been asked today to focus on how I developed my own testimony, how I have strengthened it over the years and my advice to others regarding a personal testimony.
Study. Prayer. Practice.
When I was first taught the gospel, I already believed that there was a supreme deity who had created this magnificent universe. I would study the stars and wonder, “Who is this creator?” And, “Who created this creator?” I had a deep longing to know if this deity was real. My church friends taught me that I could know, without a shadow of a doubt, that God was real and I was his daughter. He loved me.  He wanted the best for me. And most of all, he wanted me to know HIM in his heavens.
For me, a worldly 17 year old with no religious upbringing, this concept came with great promise and also surprise. God knew me as an individual and loved me as his daughter? He wanted me to know him so that I could one day return to him in the eternities and be like him? I realized that I could understand him and eventually, the universe. I knew this was my great chance, but also a great responsibility. For, having been told that I could know God, how could I turn my back? I had to move forward.
I began to study the Book of Mormon and the Bible. I talked to members of the church. I wanted to know. Satan wanted me not to know. He wanted me to keep floating in the nebulous philosophies of the world. Family members and longtime school friends discouraged my new scholarship, feeling that I would change and they would lose me. I became confused for a while, but then with increased determination, told them that all I was learning would make me better, and not a stranger to them. Satan continued his onslaught of confusion and fear.
Finally I could stand the uncertainty no more.  I prayed. “Can I know the Book of Mormon is true? Is this church what it claims, the church of the fullness of the gospel?”  I prayed to do the right thing. And, I had enough brand new faith to expect an answer. The answer came the next day when the missionaries came to my door. I did not know my friends had told them I was investigating. I took this as a sign that I should listen to what they had to say. I did. And it was the best news I ever heard.
They told me that God was very much in his heavens and his son, Jesus Christ, was the savior of the world. They told me that the fullness of the Gospel had been restored in the latter days and that God had called prophets to lead his people again. Joseph Smith was the first of those prophets, and through him the Book of Mormon was translated and the true church restored to the earth. They told me that the current prophet was Spencer W. Kimball and he spoke with power and authority from God. And, in my heart I knew what they were teaching was true.

Marion G. Romney said: “A testimony is the sure knowledge or assurance from the Holy Ghost of the truth and divinity of the Lord’s work in these latter days. A testimony is the “abiding, living, [and] moving conviction of the truths revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ” ( “How to Gain a Testimony,” New Era, May 1976, 8; emphasis added).
The Gospel of Jesus Christ made perfect sense to me, and over the next two months, I studied, prayed and began to attend church. I faced some obstacles, but how could I go back then to confusion and wonder when the answers were before me. The Gospel was delicious.
In Alma’s great discourse on the word of God in the Book of Mormon he says: “Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”

I was baptized with my father’s permission. Seventeen, newly graduated from high school, on my way to college, with the sweet gospel guiding my dreams, a new life was before me. Over the next several years I studied the gospel in a variety of ways to strengthen my testimony. I attended meetings and activities. I taught primary, Relief Society and Sunday school, I studied the scriptures through institute class, study guides and personal discussion. While this sounds easy and exciting, it was actually difficult, because at that time I did not know that I had dyslexia and ADHD.
I tried many times reading the scriptures from chapter to chapter as most people do. I found it difficult to concentrate for very long. As I progressed in college, where my learning differences also affected me, I finally discovered the best way for me to learn and internally organize information. I needed to learn by principle, or subject. I purchased a book called “Teaching with the Book of Mormon,” with which I studied the scriptures by subjects, such as fasting, word of wisdom, revelation, etc. I then began to mark my scriptures so that I could track my progress. When I finished the book I began to use the topical guide to find new scriptures for various teachings of the gospel. With the marked scriptures, I could then read the passages in context and get much more out of my study time.
Another great tool I have discovered is reading aloud and listening to scriptures. I am an auditory learner. When I read the scriptures to my daughter I would often pause to explain verses to her. This helped me to understand them myself. (And, it is true what is often said, you really start learning when you start teaching.) We also listened to the scriptures which are available on CDs and the website. I have downloaded them to my computer and put them on my MP3 player. I am now on my 3rd time through the Book of Mormon since January.
General Conference attendance for me is a superlative testimony builder. Hearing the words of our prophet and his counselors, and other leaders of the church give me a spiritual boost I can get nowhere else. I can then go to the church website, download the talks/and or listen to them whenever I want. I purchase the conference CD’s for my gospel library. I receive the Ensign magazine where I can read the talks and other great articles throughout the year. is a great source of information about the church and our beliefs. You can download talks, scriptures, music, lessons and much more. Other websites, such as provide information, personal profiles, testimonies and even online chat. I can find anything if I look in the right place.
Of course, accompanying study of the gospel is constant prayer. I always invite the Holy Spirit to be with my before I read or listen to any scriptures or lessons. I have also fasted when I needed that extra communion with the spirit. When I am researching a gospel principle, I pray for understanding. Sometimes talks or lessons at church also inspire me to research. In each instance, prayer accompanies my study. And I do not stop until I have a greater testimony concerning that gospel principle.
Another important part of my gaining a testimony has been to bear my testimony. Telling others of the sacred mission and atonement of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation keeps my testimony alive and edifies others. I know that I am greatly uplifted by hearing the testimonies of others, from the smallest primary child to the president of the church. All these testify of Christ. All these testimonies are a part of my own.
Your examples strengthen my testimony. Primary children singing reverently in primary, young men and women dressing and speaking modestly, priesthood brethren blessing and passing the sacrament, visiting teachers serving their sisters, members cleaning up after themselves, youth respecting church property and grounds, Boy Scouts tending the flag, members fulfilling their callings, friends loving friends. All these examples have a profound influence on my testimony of the Gospel.  
Testimony is an action word. My testimony is why I get up every day and go to work, care for my family, study the gospel and serve others. It is why I love, laugh, sing and garden. While it is strong it carries me; when it is not so strong, I nurture it back to health. My testimony is who I am and who I strive to be: a righteous daughter of God.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has declared:
‘Our motives and thoughts ultimately influence our actions. The testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the most powerful motivating force in our lives. Jesus repeatedly emphasized the power of good thoughts and proper motives: “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36).
The testimony of Jesus Christ and the restored gospel will help us in our lives to learn of God’s specific plan for us and then to act accordingly. It gives us assurance of the reality, truth, and goodness of God, of the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, and of the divine calling of latter-day prophets. Our testimony motivates us to live righteously, and righteous living will cause our testimony to grow stronger.’
We gain a testimony of prayer by praying. We gain a testimony of fasting by fasting. We gain a testimony of General Conference by attending. We gain testimony of tithing by paying it. We gain a testimony of the Word of Wisdom by abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea and drug abuse. We gain a testimony of the law of chastity by keeping our thoughts, bodies and actions pure from the temptations of Satan. We gain a testimony of home and visiting teaching by doing it. We gain a testimony of the organization of the church when we actively participate in our ward and fulfill our callings. We gain a testimony of the priesthood by participating in its ordinances. We gain a testimony of gratitude by being served. We gain a testimony of service by serving. We gain a testimony of Jesus Christ by repenting of our sins and accepting His atoning sacrifice in our personal lives.
How would I advise you to strengthen your testimony or gain one for the very first time? I would first tell you why a testimony is so important. President Uchtdorf also said:
‘A testimony provides proper perspective, motivation, and a solid foundation on which to build a life of purpose and personal growth. It is a constant source of confidence, a true and faithful companion during good times and bad. A testimony provides us with a reason for hope and gladness. It helps us cultivate a spirit of optimism and happiness and enables us to rejoice in the beauties of nature. A testimony motivates us to choose the right at all times and in all circumstances. It motivates us to draw nearer to God, allowing Him to draw nearer to us (see James 4:8).
Our personal testimony is a protective shield, and like an iron rod it is guiding us safely through darkness and confusion.’
I can testify that this is true. There have been times in my life so dark that I did not know where I would sleep or where my next meal would come from, but through it all I knew one thing: The Gospel of Jesus Christ was true and I was a member of the restored church. I knew I was loved.
And then I would say 3 words: Study. Prayer. Practice.
The third thing I would say is to do as Amulek says in chapter 34 of the book of Alma,
Yea, even that ye would have so much faith as even to aplant the word in your hearts, that ye may try the experiment of its goodness.’
If you allow the spirit into your heart, you will feel that burning of testimony within you. If you nurture that through study and prayer, it will grow.
The fourth thing I would say is to keep the commandments. The Spirit will not testify to you if you do not keep yourself humble and worthy to receive it. Not following the commandments will show a lack of faith, which faith you desperately need to gain that sweet, pure testimony of Christ. We keep the commandments because we love the Lord, and He loves us enough to teach us the way in which we will be happiest.  If you have trouble with a commandment, search the scriptures to know why it is important to keep it. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you to keep it. Pray about it. Talk to your parents or your bishop if you have need of counsel or a blessing.
The fifth thing I would say is pray. Pray constantly for the Holy Ghost to be with you. The Spirit will testify the truth to you anywhere you are, as long as you are searching and are willing to accept it. Pray always. Answers will come, perhaps not as you would expect them, but if you accept the witness of the Holy Ghost, you will know when it is speaking to you.
The sixth thing I would say is live your testimony. Bear your testimony. You are a Latter-day Saint. You love the gospel and our Lord, Jesus Christ. These things direct your life and your goals. Let others see the light in your heart.
Study. Prayer. Practice.
I know Jesus Christ lives and stands at the head of this church. I know this because the Holy Ghost has witnessed this to me deep in my heart. I know that we are lead today by a prophet, Thomas S. Monson, because I have accepted the witness of the Holy Ghost testifying this. This is the true and living gospel of Jesus Christ, and I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Elder Deiter F. Uchtdorf  Liahona, Nov. 2006 The Power of a Personal Testimony
The Book of Mormon
Copyright  © 2011 Penny L Kjelgaard