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For my entire life, I have had a conviction that this Church is God’s kingdom, that the men and women who lead it are called of God. I believe with all my heart that the Book of Mormon is an ancient book, and I have an abiding conviction that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World.
Those convictions influence how I see the rest of the world. Because I believe in the Savior Jesus Christ, I also believe in a world that needs saving. It means I believe in the fall of man, that through sin we have alienated ourselves from our creator, and that reconciliation requires more than we can do ourselves. It means I believe in a God who communicates with his children through divinely commissioned messengers. It means I believe in covenants and ordinances as markers and signposts on our journey back to the presence of God.
It has been devastating to me to watch friends and family who once had those same convictions arrive at the opposite conclusions instead. Several of my friends and family have drifted away from the Church and called into question its core teachings. A few years ago, all of these people thought of themselves as rooted in the Gospel of Christ.
The lesson here is that I cannot take my convictions for granted. The living truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ need nourishment and care, without which, they can wither. In addition, through no fault of our own, no matter how bright life is now, we all face occasions of inclement weather where the sun hides and life darkens, where doubt and uncertainty can raise their heads.
I want to share three things that we can do to nourish our convictions and our faith, so that they can carry us through those moments in our lives. I also want to explore three spiritual traps or pitfalls along the journey, that I have observed both in my own experiences and in the experiences of others.
Three things we can do to nourish our convictions
(1) We can invest ourselves in the word of God.
When the spirit speaks to us, it will be recognizable in large part because we’ve spent time in the scriptures and are familiar with God’s voice. As Elder Wada reminded us this spring, the words of Christ can help us “increase [our] spiritual capacity to receive revelation.” When we open up our sacred books and drink from the teachings of Christ and His prophets through time, we open our minds and hearts to the influence of God in our lives.
(2) We can invest ourselves in ministry.
We can strengthen and nourish our convictions by losing ourselves in service to those in our stewardship. When we bury ourselves in our own thoughts, fears, doubts, and uncertainties, we can lose sight of the grand vision of this work. Conviction cannot be maintained through mere book study in our basements. Nor is the Gospel of Jesus Christ a spectator sport, where our convictions grow solely from observing the experiences of others. We must get our own hands dirty in the work. This is where miracles happen.
Sometimes we refrain out of fear of making mistakes — but I say we should lean into that. We should allow ourselves to make mistakes, and rely on Christ to magnify our imperfect efforts. And when this happens, we will press forward with our own experiences of the hand of God in our ministry. Our faith and conviction will then have more pillars to lean on.
(3) We can invest ourselves in sacred ordinances.
The weekly ritual of the sacrament is not mere Sabbath decoration, nor is it hollow and without effect in our lives. We come here each week not merely to attend meetings and hear sermons, but to partake of the emblems of Christ’s suffering and death. This is, among many things, a metaphor for the way Christ nourishes our hearts and souls, and participating in this ritual on a weekly basis can provide us with spiritual fortitude.
President Nelson stated, “In the coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.” It is significant, then, that the promise of the sacrament is the continual presence of the Holy Ghost in our lives.
In the same way, when we visit the temple and perform ordinances for those who have gone before, they are not the only beneficiaries of that work. When we step out of the temple after an hour or two of service, we carry with us an added measure of spiritual power. We might not see it on a given day, but with each visit that spiritual power accumulates like the dews from heaven, adding to our conviction and faith, filling our lamps with spiritual oil.
Three spiritual pitfalls that imperil our convictions
Pitfall #1: We absorb without question cultural assumptions that draw into question core Gospel worldviews.
Modern culture embraces worldviews that make the Gospel of Christ look strange, bizarre, outdated, or even deeply wrong. We can and must be discerning when encountering these worldviews, and also recognize that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is radical. It tells different stories, offers different narratives, and embraces different assumptions than those offered by our culture.
For example, our modern culture has embraced a philosophical worldview that many call expressive individualism, which offers us narratives of liberation, where we learn to be true to ourselves by relinquishing the chains of tradition and superstition through self-affirmation. In contrast, the restored Gospel of Jesus offers us narratives of redemption, where we recognize our fallenness before God, and become new creatures through discipleship and the sacrifice of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Modern culture has embraced an understanding of love where we adopt a stance of affirmation, or at the very least indifference, towards actions of those we love, where we give up entirely the notion that their choices might put them in spiritual peril. In contrast, the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ shows us an all-loving God who grieves when His children alienate themselves from Him, and where loving parents wet their pillows with tears for their wayward children.
These are just a few examples. When we learn to recognize these competing worldviews before they take hold of us, and learn why they differ from the narratives the Gospel offers us, we can inoculate our hearts and minds from the powerful cultural siege we are currently experiencing.
The German word zeitgeist refers to “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history, as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.” When we absorb the worldviews and assumptions of our day, it does not mean that those worldviews and assumptions are inherently more persuasive or obvious. It just means that we are human beings with a shared sociology, and so we tend to embrace unquestioned the zeitgeist of our age.
Pitfall #2: We give more time to popular entertainment and other sources than we do to the word (and work) of God.
Secular narratives and assumptions on morality, family, and God now saturate the prevailing entertainment of the world. While we should befriend and associate with those with different worldviews than our own, we do not have to be entertained by the same things they are. We can remain connected to the broader world without filling our lives with messaging that is contrary to our faith. We can and should be selective about the media we bring into our homes.
Through a normal, almost inevitable process of osmosis, we tend to absorb the worldviews and assumptions of those with whom we invest the most time. It does not matter if we spend an hour every day studying the scriptures, if we spend three hours a day (passively) studying the worldviews of Sean Hannity or the latest television dramas — the latter may inevitably wield as much influence on our worldviews.
For a while, I spent a few hours each week reading through exmormon discussion boards, under the pretext that I was keeping my thumb on the pulse of the conversation. Even when I disagreed with everything they were saying, I began to see the world through their eyes. In Sacrament meeting, I began to feel a sort of vicarious embarrassment on their behalf when people would say and do things they might criticize.
In short, where we spend our time changes how we see the world. In the same way, when we spend hours each day glued to popular entertainment, we begin to — whether we realize it or not — look at the world through the worldview of those of those who craft it. And modern Hollywood is filled with those who view our faith and our beliefs with disdain. We should not only invest time in the word of God, we should be cautious about how much time we give to His enemies.
Pitfall #3: We assume that, to have divine authority, the church and its leaders must be without flaw, and so we let messy details of Church history overwhelm our faith.
When I say that I know the Church is true, I do not mean that the church is perfect, or that our institutional journey is complete. Rather, I mean that this Church is Christ’s. It is filled with divine authority, from top to bottom. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have a divine commission to supervise the gathering of Israel. And our bishop and his counselors have a divine commission to administer the affairs of this ward.
Having that divine commission does not make any of these people perfect. It does not make them free from past sins, from personal biases, or even from mistakes in their ministry. We are a community of mortal beings, from the top to the bottom. King Benjamin taught his congregation long ago that, while not trifling with his words, they should not look upon him as more than a mortal man. Our prophets and local leaders ask the same of us.
The history of the Restoration of the Gospel is messy. Even those with tremendous spiritual gifts see through a glass darkly at times. The lines from 1830 to now are not straight lines, but have a number of zigs and zags. This is illustrated in the messiness of the early days of polygamy in Nauvoo. This is illustrated in the messiness of President Brigham Young’s at-times impassioned sermons that — to his later dismay — provided pretext for some Latter-day Saints to do things expressly contrary to God’s laws.
Some look at this history and expect more from an institution that claims to be God’s kingdom on earth. I do not. I believe that God does His greatest work through mortal men and women who are at times no more perfect than the rest of us. There are indeed facts that might challenge me were it not for my overriding conviction of this work. Our faith can grow more resilient as we grow less naive about those things.
My testimony is that if we continue to study and learn from those who are the most invested and knowledgeable about this history — and not merely from our critics — historical questions can and will be dwarfed by a realization of the majesty of God’s hand in the history of this institution. The miracle of the Restoration is not just that it happened, but that it happened through imperfect and sometimes deeply flawed people like us.
Pitfall #4: We seek a single spiritual manifestation that will sweep away all our doubts and concerns, and become disappointed when that doesn’t happen.
I can bear witness of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, in large part because God has spoken to me on myriads of occasions, whispering to my heart again and again these sacred truths. But there’s something I’ve observed over time about these experiences.
When I pray and ask God if He is real, I have not always gotten a direct answer — in part because my prayers were all about me. When my prayers are less about me and my own need for certainty — when I relinquish my sign-seeking and frame my questions differently — I encounter revelation in my life far more reliably.
For example, when I pray and ask God to help me see ways to be a better husband or a better father, my own shortcomings are revealed to me throughout the day — and not in a self-disparaging way, but in a manner that makes me excited to be and do better for my family. But beyond that, I walk forward with a deeper conviction that God is real and cares about me and my family. My initial prayer was answered when it became no longer about me.
When I pray and ask God if the Book of Mormon is true, I have not always gotten a direct answer. But when I pray and ask God to help me understand the life of Alma, details in Alma’s story become clearer as I read, and I walk forward with a deeper conviction that this story was not invented by a 23 year old man in 1829, that these are the stories of real people, real men of God with life experiences to learn from.
When I pray and ask God if this Church is true, I have not always gotten a direct answer. But when I pray and ask God to help me use priesthood power to bless others, I encounter occasions to bless my family and minister to those in my stewardship. And I walk forward with a deeper conviction that this institution is, indeed, Christ’s kingdom and that we are acting as His hands in working miracles in the lives of His children.
But most importantly, my conviction does not rest on any single spiritual experience. Nor should it. Rather, it is better thought of as a tapestry that is woven from thousands of little threads that (on their own) might not convince me, but together, they become an unassailable witness of the Restored Gospel.
In conclusion, when we spend our time looking for that single spiritual manifestation that will sweep doubt from our minds and hearts, we may come to wrongly believe that God’s promises of spiritual knowledge are empty. But when we look outwards, invest ourselves in the word of God, invest ourselves in ministry in this kingdom, continually renew our covenants and participate in sacred ordinances, we can and will have myriads of encounters with God that, stacked together, serve as a reservoir of spiritual strength that will carry us through times of discouragement, doubt, and uncertainty.
This article was updated and expanded from an earlier article published at Latter-day Saint Philosopher.