One of my favorite things about Christianity is its willingness to challenge us to prove its veracity through experimentation. This process of utilizing faith to grow our confidence in God is done through actions. Even our Lord Jesus Christ, when being questioned about His knowledge of the law, taught us that knowing the truth is built upon actions of faith.
“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” John 7:17
For many of us, faith may be built upon a series of spiritual experiences that we wait patiently to accumulate over our lives. However, in some cases these experiences may never come, or time can diminish our past experiences, and our faith dwindles. For others, faith is built upon knowledge along with logic and reasoning that resonate with us. However, there are times when logic and reasoning lead us to questions that cannot be immediately answered, and in that individual quest for answers we can lose sight of the purpose of our faith, or even talk ourselves out of our faith altogether. Alone, these two methods may fail, but accompanied by actively engaging in our faith they can bring the fruits of faith we are seeking.
Alma, a Book of Mormon prophet, takes Jesus’ exhortation about “doing His will” even further and describes an experiment in which we can all participate. A brief explanation of the experiment follows (full explanation read Alma 32:21-46).
- Desire to Believe – Our intent, when it comes to God, matters. If we don’t want something spiritually powerful or an increase in our faith then the experiment is meaningless.
- Receive the Word – Hear or read something we want to prove the goodness of.
- Create Environment to test the “goodness” of the word that is conducive to the experiment – surrounding ourselves with people and things we know to be good, separating temporarily from people and things we know are not helpful in the experiment.
- Learn and do the things the Word teaches – could be prayer, meditating and thinking about things that are good, keeping commandments, loving each other, being kind, or any number of things with the intent to see whether the Word is good.
- If you feel your actions are good, then continue to learn and continue to act on those things – receive what feels like the spirit of God confirming the truth to you, feel peace in your life, find more joy in your relationships, have more hope for the future and continue in that process.
Being able to act for ourselves and discover for ourselves, is one of the greatest sources of power and one of the most appealing facets to both investigators and existing Mormons alike. This experimenting can be very empowering, endearing, and because, as Alma puts it, experiential knowledge is so “real”, it often produces very devout, converted and engaged disciples of Jesus Christ. Ironically, the spiritual experiences we often wait for, and the answers to questions that usually trouble us, in my experience, are most often found when we are acting on our faith instead of waiting to be acted upon.
Acting not being Acted Upon
“…there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon…Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself…they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon.” 2 Nephi 2:14, 16, 26 (selected passages)
As already mentioned, waiting for marvelous manifestations, or answers to complex questions is form of being acted upon. We all have the ability to choose how we act each day, and fortunately we also possess a great capacity to perceive when things are good in our lives. These two abilities inherent in each of us are part of the reason I feel acting on our faith is so converting. When we do something and know from experience it is good, we tend to want to do it again. With Christ, we have the added benefit that as we “draw near unto Him” He will “draw near unto us”. Meaning He will show us the answers to our questions, and let us be part of amazing spiritual experiences on the path of action.
I want to discuss three ideas that can help encourage, and also show why we should not discard the fundamental action of spiritual experimentation. My goal is to convince all of us that how we choose to act is what will build our faith and bring us closer to God and to each other in Christ.
We Assume Instead of Act
Assumptions are necessary in our world of decision making. Since it is impossible to know every bit of information, every point of view on a topic, and foresee the ramifications of every action we are forced to make assumptions thousands of times per day. One of the byproducts of their necessity is we can get very complacent and use them too often.
We can all remember the beginning of a relationship with someone new. Constantly trying to decide which thing to do next, which things to say or not to say, even though we make many assumptions at these times, we are more careful and seek to get to know the other person as much as possible so we don’t make the wrong assumptions. Later on in the relationship, say 8 years after marriage, we make all kinds of assumptions. “Oh sorry, I thought you wouldn’t mind that I scheduled golf on Saturday with my friends. I didn’t know you had a bridal shower. I guess we will figure something out.” Because we have become more familiar with each other we often get lazy and make more assumptions than we did before.
This is even more common, and more problematic in my opinion, within the faith construct. We are taught right from our introduction to Mormonism to seek God for answers to our prayers, to know the truth. Even the author of the Book of Mormon makes the challenge:
“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, 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. 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.” Moroni 10:3-5
For many, including me, this process has given me confidence that the Book of Mormon is inspired by God. We are then encouraged to continue to seek truth throughout our lives:
“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; 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.” 2 Nephi 28:30
Unfortunately, many of us are guilty of going from assumption to assumption instead of growing line upon line and precept upon precept. We use the inference that since the Book of Mormon is from God and therefore the Mormon Church is from God as the reason to stop our own progress. These type of inferences are valuable as we grow, and having a church infrastructure that is built to assist us in our growth is truly a gift beyond value, but if we quit actively learning line upon line, even if the assumptions are easy to make, then we are like the people mentioned in the scripture who said, “we have enough” and the Lord said, “from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” I have seen too many times that because someone does not continue to actively build their faith line upon line, and instead makes assumptions based on a collection of their, or other’s experiences, when the storms of adversity, or challenges to their assumptions arise their faith is a broken and empty vessel full of assumptions, instead of living water.
Christ Must be the Foundation of Our Faith
“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Jeremiah 2:13
This scripture is one that I recently “found” for the first time as I was in Sunday School. The imagery is so awesome. Jesus Christ, is of course, the fountain of living water. He often encouraged us to come unto Him and drink of living waters and promised we would not go thirsty again. The second part makes reference to how we store our water if we ever come back to the fountain to drink. The “cisterns” (large, often underground, containers that hold potable water for long periods of time), were broken and couldn’t hold any water, and I believe they are representative of our faith when we abandon the active faith that is required to maintain the living waters of Jesus Christ.
Our cisterns, (eg: our lives, our actions, our faith) should not be centered on the many callings, responsibilities, ideals, relationships, expectations, wishes, and various other aspects of life. They should be built and fortified on the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ. We hear that a lot, but what does it mean?
Understanding what it means to have our faith founded on Christ comes down to measurement. In our world the way we measure success is based on results.
- Success at work = Money
- Success at Home = Good Kids
- Success at Church = Callings of Prestige
- Success as Friends = Lots of Friends
I think we can see the picture. However, when it comes to our purpose on this earth, because we are not of this world, it is not surprising that the way our success is measured should be different.
Here is an example: We have been told that, if we are faithful, our families have a better chance of being happy and our children being righteous. So if we measure faithfulness based on the results (this would be building our cisterns on something other than Christ), then if our marriages fail or children go astray, it can be damaging to our faith – or others’ when we judge them as unsuccessful. This is not to say that measuring results does not have a benefit to us, there is no question that measuring results encourages improvement. However, it is not uncommon for our focus on the ideals and their expected results to become the very source of unhappy marriages, and wayward children.
On the other hand, when Jesus Christ is the foundation of our actions in faith we have the perspective that this life is meant for us to learn, and we will often fail, but because of the atonement we can have confidence He will help us through any situation. We diminish the power of the atonement when we make its benefits conditioned upon results. Christ only ever conditioned his aid upon faith and repentance, He would lead us the rest of the way there.
Consistently acting on our faith in Christ, through good times and bad, will fill our cisterns with living water. Then when our marriages are unhappy, or our children go astray, we can go to the cistern and rely on those waters to give us strength. Additionally, this kind of faith helps us relate to those around us differently, knowing that they are struggling through this life as well. It helps us act in ways that can aid them in their journey instead of criticize and condemn. This active faith brings love into our hearts more easily and where love is the Spirit of God is as well.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance… Galatians 5:22-23
I think all of us can agree that partaking of those fruits would lead us to believe our actions are good.
We all remember the story of the Wise Man and the Foolish Man.
Faith is Stagnant When not Used to Help Others
“More testimonies are gained on the feet than on the knees” – Brigham Young
Faith isn’t just a collection of experiences that prove there is a God, or that Mormons are correct. Faith is living the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and seeing the fruits in our lives and in other’s. Joseph Smith always held that the purpose of life is happiness. I think it is clear both from the teachings of the Savior, and from the circumstances of life that the best sort of happiness comes from our relationships with others. I think it then holds true that when it comes to faith, relationships are integral.
“And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me! Behold, you have my gospel before you, and my rock, and my salvation. Ask the Father in my name in faith, believing that you shall receive, and you shall have the Holy Ghost, which manifesteth all things which are expedient unto the children of men. And if you have not faith, hope, and charity, you can do nothing.” D&C 18:15-19
Actively using our faith to show others the path to Christ’s living water is where the “good” fruits are most likely to be found. When we genuinely are seeking to help others as a part of our faith then many things change. It no longer matters that we disagree with other people at church politically or any other reason, because we all offer something different and there are many who need what we have to offer as well as them. It is no longer possible for someone to offend us because we are focused on those we are trying to help and on those who are helping us. It is so much easier to be a loving parent when our children go astray because we are confident that their best chance to come back is for them to really believe we love Jesus Christ and we really love them no matter what. We no longer feel the need to be the hall monitors, monitoring all the people’s sins because we are so cognizant of the need we have for Jesus ourselves. We share in the pain others go through and are the extension of Jesus’ rock for many searching for their starting points in faith. It is no wonder there is so much “joy in seeing but one soul come unto God”
When our faith is only about us and what we know, then it is easier for our faith to be acted upon by outside forces, and make no mistake, there are outside forces seeking to destroy our faith. The best way to be active in our faith is to help others with theirs.
I want to conclude with a story of a friend who recently converted. I asked him to just give me a brief explanation of his conversion process. I feel it shows an example of this active faith I feel we can all benefit from.
“I have always loved God since I was a little boy. My pious grandparents are probably responsible for this. And yet, my experience at [other] churches I attended growing up, while interesting and at times inspiring, always felt like they were missing something. If I asked my old self what that was, I wouldn’t have been able to put my finger on it.
I started doing business with [a few guys], and after getting to know them I thought, here were two nice, intelligent people who also loved to talk about God. And not just on a superficial level, but these two had clearly thought deeply about God and His role in their lives and the lives of others. They seemed “at peace” with themselves and, by and large, un-conflicted. I was intrigued. What were they doing or what did they have that I was missing? They were Mormons.
I asked a lot of questions to which I received not just quick one-off answers, but well thought out responses – with scriptural references. I started reading the bible. I read the “Good News” version – it was easier to read – and asked myself, “Why hadn’t I found this version before?” I loved it and read every night. I felt myself coming closer to God the more I read. I thought I was already as close as I could get to God. I wasn’t.
More questions followed to my Mormon friends. “Who was Joseph Smith?” “Why did Mormons have all those wives?” “Were they like Amish people?” Patiently and more importantly – thoroughly – my questions were answered. I found the awesome LDS.org. website and I devoured those videos. “Hey,” I thought, “these people are like me – but even happier and they seem more complete”. I asked them to send me a copy of the Book of Mormon. I tried to read it but had a difficult time so I put it down. I was invited to watch the LDS [General] Conference. I did. I cried at the beautiful sermons. They were the most amazing sermons I’d ever heard. They were just so…right and logical. Everything was seeming to make sense!
I knew my friends didn’t drink and was thinking about giving up drinking, when I got some test results back from my annual blood-work. My liver levels were off the charts. My cholesterol meds were killing my liver. That was odd because I’d taken the same meds for 5 years but now there was an issue. Now I had to quit drinking (among other things) until they went back to normal. I quit that 25 year habit easier than I thought I could, as I felt the Lord was helping me.
I was reading the bible now every night. I downloaded the LDS [Gospel Library] app on my IPad. I read “Rough Stone Rolling” about the founding the church. More questions, more thorough answers from my friends. I was trying to be as thorough as I could in my investigation and wanted to know everything, warts and all.
I eventually attended March Madness [NCAA Basketball Tournament] with my new friends and some of their friends – mostly more Mormons. All really nice people. Extraordinary people really. I really liked them and I kept asking, “Why were they so happy?” I felt like it was because God and family was the center of their lives. But was it really that simple? I felt like true happiness and peace was right there – over a chasm that stood before me. Could I jump over it?
So I prayed to know what to do and I picked up the Book of Mormon and started to read again. This time, it was easy. I felt God leading me. My friends asked if I’d attended church yet. I hadn’t. I was nervous. Me – a 46 year old successful entrepreneur was nervous. I’d stood in front of thousands and spoken, I’d started several businesses and lived through many public failures. I was afraid to attend church. I think I knew that my life would change forever and I’d never look back.
My friends offered to fly 2500 miles and take me to church. Yes – they did. I accepted. We went together and I have never looked back. I was home.
I quit tobacco. I quit tea and coffee. I had quit those things before with no significant change but this time my blood pressure – high since college – returned to normal. God, once again, leading me and showing me this was good.
My wife, after attending church once and meeting my friends, “got it” (she was always a bit quicker like that…) – God leading us together now.
My wife and I LOVE going to church for three hours! We can’t wait to serve! What?? “That’s crazy” says my old self. Another sign.
At my baptism, the Bishop of my ward thanked my friends for their “missionary work”. After 4 years of my questioning and their patient and thorough answering, my family and I have found our center. It started with two “missionaries” who had left their official missions over a decade before – but thankfully had never stopped being missionaries for the church.
We were a happy family before. But now we are an even happier, more peaceful and loving family – with God at the center. As my wife put it, “I feel like there was a great hole inside of me that has been filled”. Amen sister.”
My friend is such an amazing person, and of course he and his wife are actively involved with their congregation and looking to help as many people as they can. I can tell you from my experience with them, that while all the answers to their questions mattered, what increased my friends’ faith was seeing other’s faith in action and then beginning their own experiment and seeing with that “eye of faith” that the Word was good and then continuing to nurture and grow it. They had many “aha” moments that they feel was God revealing truth to them, but their faith was built through an experiment in which they acted as the primary participants.
No matter our circumstances, good or bad, actively experimenting on the gospel of Jesus Christ will lead us to “goodness”. I have had many peaks and valleys in my life, as I am sure all of us have, but I can say without question the most enduring knowledge I have is that when I actively live the gospel, and actively look to help others I have peace, happiness, and goodness. In fact some of the times in my life that should have been the hardest were the sweetest, and some times that shouldn’t have been hard at all but were life-alteringly bad because I had abandoned my active faith in the Jesus. I pray we can all make even the smallest of strides to test the Word in our own lives.
Just wanted to finish with one of my favorite Hymns that gives my faith in Jesus Christ our Fount of Living Water.
- First Principles and Ordinances by Samuel M. Brown
- The Holy Secret by James Ferrell