Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Testimony and Gratitude

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share a story from my life about gratitude and how it changed my life during one of the times of my life when I was at my least thankful.

We have all experienced times when our testimonies felt weak or inadequate. Usually we find ourselves saying “How can I get to where I was? How can I find my faith again?” I propose to illustrate how the principle of gratitude can help us build our testimonies. To do this I will mostly rely on a single story from my mission.

There are three steps I want to point out to building your testimony with gratitude, which you will see in this story.

1. Choosing to believe blessings come from God,

2. Choosing to give credit to God,

3. Choosing to act on the blessings God presents you with.

Choosing to believe blessings come from God.

There was a moment, about 5 months into my mission, where everything changed. It was the moment when I went from being an unwilling, unhappy missionary to a happy, and successful missionary.

This is the story of when it “clicked” for me. It is probably the key point in my mission, if not my life, and you’ll notice that it all hinges on gratitude.

When I first arrived on the island of Taiwan, my mission president asked me “what sort of companion do you want to have?”

Knowing how incredibly lazy I am, and wanting to be the best missionary I could be, I answered immediately with “one who works hard.”

President listened.

Man, did he listen.

I was blessed with a hard working trainer. But the phrase “hard working” doesn’t quite encompass the intensity of this great missionary. He was driven. He was a maniac. I’ll try to explain just how much this guy loved working.

Most evenings we would spend our time knocking on every door we could find. Companion knew that it took about X minutes to get home on bike, so when we reached X minutes until curfew, he’d knock two or three more doors, till the time was X minus 1 minute. We would then have to jump on our bikes and pedal our brains out to try and make it home before our 9:30 curfew.

I hadn’t ridden a bike in years, so usually he would get ahead of me and I would get frustrated that he wouldn’t wait up.

He’d say “Can’t wait! We’ll be late! Push harder!”

I’d say “I can’t!”

He’d say “Where’s your faith, elder?!”

Then I’d pedal harder so I could try and punch him in the face...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Power of Covenants

I love studying the gospel as much as I do the world/universe around us. As I've studied and encountered different world views that are sometimes pitted against each other, I've seen people lose faith in God when they feel they've discovered irreconcilable differences.
I'm not going to go into the philosophical reasons why that doesn't have to be the case (though those are interesting as well). Instead, I'm going to just point out and testify that when we suppose to have found a ideological discord we must remember to back up for a minute and focus on covenants.
Covenants Make Us Free to have Faith

I think we can take a cue from Nephi in how he treated the covenants he made with God:

5 And also my soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers; yea, my soul delighteth in his grace, and in his justice, and power, and mercy in the great and eternal plan of deliverance from death.2 Nephi 11:5

I love that phrase, "delighting in covenants". Notice the train of thought here. Nephi is saying that by appreciating and celebrating his covenants that he is able to gain faith in grace, justice, power, mercy, and the atonement. Nephi sees his covenants as a source of his faith in those things. And I think that is a powerful reminder that we should seek to better understand our covenants and the faith that they enable. 

Covenants Make Us Free from Dogmatism

Far too often, we allow ourselves to get bogged down in secular or religious dogma. The problem with a dogmatic approach to religion is that it dehumanizes it and turns it instead into merely a set of intellectual or philosophical ascents. Now, philosophy and intellect are important, but not at the expense of this faith in Christ born out of making and keeping covenants with Him. The power of religion, especially Christian religions, is that we can have a human relationship here and now with God.

54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 6:54
Notice what is said here. Those who "hear my word", "believe in him that sent me", "eat of my flesh", and "drink my blood", those people have eternal life right here and now. Faith in Jesus Christ is active; not some yet-to-be unrealized wishful or intellectual thinking. Christ promises us an eternal relationship here and now. And He does so through covenants.

So when this, that, or some other dogma or philosophy comes up, I try to understand it from the context of my covenants.  
  • Have I covenanted to believe a particular thing about the age of the earth or the detailed biology of life? Nope. 
  • Have I covenanted to have a myopic view of native American history? Nope.
  • Have I covenanted to have particular political viewpoints? Nope.
  • Have I covenanted to literally interpret all of scripture? Nope.
  • Etc. etc. etc.

The problem with this perspective, again, is that it tries to anesthetize covenants by making them merely beliefs or ideologies. Covenants aren't a promise to think something. Covenants are promises to act. 

  • Have I covenanted to not partake in alcohol/tobacco? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to avoid any/all pre/extra-marital sex? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to regularly attend church? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to serve others? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to continually repent? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to love and forgive others? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to pay an honest tithe? Yes.
  • Etc. etc. etc.

When we see our faith merely as abstract ideologies we empty the life from our testimony and faith. Christ taught in His mortal ministry that knowledge and testimony of His gospel is to be found in action, not dogma:

17 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

Covenants Free Us to Meet God

King Benjamin put it best when he praised the covenant his people made with God:

7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.

9 And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.
Mosiah 5:7-9

So, as I go about my studies in various topics and encounter people with different world-views, I don't let supposed ideological discords overrun the power of my covenants. And while "the glory of God is intelligence" (D&C 93:36), we cannot forget that the source of testimony is not merely dogma, but instead faith and a covenant life.