Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
If you travel to Florence, Italy, you can find the Museo Galileo. There you will find many of the inventions and writings of Galileo Galilei, who in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s was an astronomer, physicist and engineer. He has been called the father of modern physics because of his advancements in science and astronomy.
He was a champion of heliocentrism, the model in which the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun at the center of the solar system. This was in bold opposition in his day when the papacy declared that the Earth was the center of the solar system. Mostly because the Bible refers to the earth as the footstool of heaven.
But Galileo had something few others had: a telescope. Through it he discovered three of Jupiter’s moons and observed they rotated around Jupiter. This observation did not conform to Aristotelian cosmology or the proclamation of the church that all heavenly bodies rotated around the earth.
He also observed and documented the phases of Venus. The phases proved that Venus rotated around the sun and confirmed the heliocentric model of the solar system. However, after publishing his writings, an inquisition was submitted claiming that Galileo was seeking to reinterpret the Bible. Galileo went to Rome to defend himself, but Galileo was eventually ordered to abandon heliocentrism. Galileo tried to avoid the controversy but in his subsequent writings, he wrote of what he saw and observed. Another inquisition condemned Galileo and he was placed under arrest for the remaining years of his life.
As the story goes, he was moved from the dungeon of one house to another. After emerging from the dungeon into the sunlight, at that moment he looked up to the sky and down to the ground and stamping with his foot, said, “Still it moves.” Meaning the earth moves around the sun. Other stories say he uttered the phrase at the time of his sentencing. In Murillo’s portrait of Galileo the words, “E pur si muove” meaning “and yet it moves” were scratched on the wall of Galileo’s prison cell.
Regardless of which story is true, Galileo knew what others did not know because he saw what others did not see. This gave him a gift. The gift to stand resolved and firm in his knowledge that heliocentrism was true and right.
The witnesses whose names are written in the first few pages of the Book of Mormon had a similar view. They saw what others did not see and knew with certainty what others would come to know. And these witnesses were commanded to bear witness of what they saw. Regardless of what circumstances would come about in their life, trials they would face, disagreements that came their way, dungeons of sorts that would entrap them in life, they would stand firm in their testimony of what they saw.
Like Galileo, you too can have an instrument to see what others do not see. It allows you to stand firm as a witness. So that no matter what, regardless of daily entrapments, prisons of self-doubt, past misconceptions and misgivings; you can plant your foot on the ground so to speak and testify, I know that God lives, Jesus is the Savior of the world, and the Book of Mormon is the word of God.
The question is: Will you and I stand as witnesses?
Speaking to the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon, the Lord says, “And after you have…seen [the plates] with your eyes, you shall testify of them, by the power of God” (D&C 17:3). In short, He called them to witness throughout their life. And while most of us have not seen with our eyes all that the three witnesses saw with theirs, we have had the Holy Ghost tell us of important truths. Should we not stand as a witness?
A testimony is one of the greatest gifts of life and sharing it is one of the greatest gifts we can give to others. A testimony “enables us to hold a steady course in times of prosperity and to overcome doubt and fear in times of adversity.”[i] The gift of testimony and the sharing of it strengthens our faith and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. How? If you have received a witness of the Holy Ghost that Jesus Christ lives and the Book of Mormon are true, are you more apt to follow Jesus and the words in that book? Yes.
But the blessings of a testimony extend even further. Let’s consider a few blessings of a testimony:
We Know Who We Are
When we gain a testimony, we gain an identity of who we really are. It’s interesting, when most of us are asked to introduce ourselves, we speak about our profession, what school we attend, major course of study we are pursuing or the make-up of our family. We speak of what we see as our major identity.
But the truth is, there is no more important identity than knowing we are a daughter or son of God. The bearing of a testimony helps us bring that truth to the forefront of our thinking. It helps us be spiritually minded and frame our experiences in the context of our true identity.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “To be spiritually minded is to view and evaluate our experiences in terms of the enlarged perspective of eternity. Each of us has a personal lens through which we view the world. Our lens gives its special tint to all we see. It can suppress some features and emphasize others. It can also reveal things otherwise invisible. Through the lens of spirituality, we can know ‘the things of God’ by ‘the Spirit of God.’ As the Apostle Paul taught, such things are ‘foolishness’ to the ‘natural man.’ He cannot see them ‘because they are spiritually discerned.’”[ii]
Just as Galileo would frame his observations of the planets in the context of heliocentrism, so we can frame our experiences in the context of our testimony that Jesus is our savior and the Book of Mormon is true. When we do, we live differently. The lens of a testimony informs our life in powerful ways.
Elder Oaks continues “How we interpret our experiences is also a function of our degree of spirituality. Some interpret mortality solely in terms of worldly accomplishments and possessions. In contrast, we who have a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ should interpret our experiences in terms of our knowledge of the purpose of life, the mission of our Savior, and the eternal destiny of the children of God.”[iii]
In section 15 we read a revelation given to John Whitmer. It was a simple revelation with long-lasting results. The Lord said, “…many times you have desired of me to know that which would be of the most worth unto you.” John could have engaged in any profession he chose. He could have practiced law, engaged in merchandising or many other endeavors.[iv] However, a voice had come from heaven and he chose to follow that voice. A testimony of the Book of Mormon, and a testimony of revelation framed his thinking and enabled him to choose to do that which was of most worth to him—to serve God.
When You Share Your Testimony, It Grows
It seems that every time I have shared my testimony, my testimony grows. Boyd K. Packer said, “A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!”[v]
Years ago, President Kimball said, “Every month the First Presidency and the Twelve meet with all the General Authorities in the temple. They bear testimony and they tell each other how they love one another…. Why do the General Authorities need a testimony meeting? The same reason you need a testimony meeting. Do you think you can go three, and six, and nine, and twelve months without bearing your testimony and still keep its full value?”[vi]
If I were to ask you to write your testimony so that others could read it, you would have to consider what you know, how you feel about it, and how convicted you are in your knowledge. As you consider and write your feelings, you may realize and learn a few things you’ve never considered before or be re-established in something you have. Either way, you grow in the sharing of that testimony.
Likewise, when you bear your testimony, similar growth happens. However, I believe because you are keeping the commandment of the Lord by sharing, you get the added blessing of testimony growth. Perhaps the Holy Ghost witnesses more strongly when you testify, perhaps the conviction is burned deeper in your soul, or perhaps you are simply blessed for your faithfulness. Regardless, I know you grow when you testify.
When You Share Your Testimony, You Build Faith in Others
When I was a teenager, my Dad would often invite me to “run an errand” or ask for my help. We would climb into his little white truck and as he drove, we would talk. I noticed his triple combination sat on his dash. I didn’t realize then but have since that my Dad doesn’t always have his scriptures on his dash when he drives. But with me, it was always there.
Our conversation would often lead to my Dad’s testimony. He would often say, “you know what I’ve learned?” And then he would hand me his scriptures and ask me to read a verse or two as he directed. As I read, I could see his writing in the margins and I would listen to his testimony he shared after I read aloud. The truth is, my Dad wanted me to know he loved the scriptures. He had a testimony. Those little talks, his testimony has influenced me to this day. There is power in testimony that will stay with others long after you share it.
As parents, friends, and spouses, we build God’s kingdom when we share our testimony. It strengthens others, strengthens us, brings us closer to God and to each other, there is power in the sharing of testimony.
To Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, the Lord instructed them to testify that they saw the plates, it was by God’s power they were translated, they had felt and received God’s power. They were to testify so that Joseph would not be destroyed and so God could bring about his righteous purposes.
Similarly, when we feel impressed to share our testimony with family, while ministering or at other times in life; we just may be bringing about God’s righteous purposes.
Jared Carter, an early convert to the church, felt inspired to leave his business and go on a mission. In 1832, he had an opportunity to preach and testify to a group of people. Zera Pulsipher was in attendance. Jared was asked several questions, each time answering with his testimony of the gospel, revelation and repentance.
Zera decided to make the matter of whether the Book of Mormon was true a matter of fervent prayer. He did so for seven days. Here are Zera’s own words:
“I think about the seventh day as I was thrashing in my barn with doors shut. All at once there seemed to be a ray of light from heaven which caused me to stop work for a short time, but soon began again. Then in a few minutes another light came over my head which caused me to look up. I thought I saw the angels with the Book of Mormon in their hands in the attitude of showing it to me and saying this is the great revelation of the last days in which all things spoken of by the prophets must be fulfilled. The vision was so open and plain that I began to rejoice exceedingly so that I walked the length of my barn crying ‘Glory Hallelujah to the God and the Lamb forever.’”[vii]
Zera would go on to testify himself serving a mission and baptizing several people including Wilford Woodruff.
Jared’s testimony led to the fulfilling of God’s purposes including the conversion of Wilford Woodruff. Likewise, we should not underestimate the power in sharing our testimony.
Testimonies Have Power
I also have learned another blessing of testimony is this: when I really pay attention to testimonies as they are shared, there is additional power that comes to me through those testimonies. Testifying is a commandment and whenever commandments are followed, blessings also follow. One of those blessings is the added power that is brought into our life when we pay attention to testimonies when they are shared. I have often thought to myself, “You better pay attention, someone is bearing their testimony.” And there have been many times, that my life has changed as a result of paying attention.
While working on my Ph.D. in Education, I studied various learning theories. One of the theories that has influenced my way of thinking is that of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding. Simply stated, when a learner works in collaboration with a more knowledgeable peer or skilled instructor rather than independently, he or she is able to grow within a zone of proximal development and practice new tasks with the social support that surrounds them. This fosters faster and longer lasting growth.
Testimonies provide scaffolding for our faith and future decisions. When we hear testimony, we consider the truth of things said. In that consideration, we arrive at truths ourselves. We serve as support for others as we all grow in the proximal development and practice of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We don’t have to say, “I testify” to bear testimony. We testify by how we live, pray and obey. Elder Bednar told of how Elder Haight bore testimony by his actions.
“At the conclusion of our June Board of Trustees meeting in Salt Lake City, President Hinckley invited Elder David B. Haight to offer the benediction. At the age of 97, Elder Haight had some difficulty as he tried to stand and offer the prayer. After Elder Haight had made several attempts to rise to his feet, President Hinckley courteously said, “David, it is all right”—suggesting, I believe, that it was permissible for Elder Haight to remain in his chair and offer the prayer. Elder Haight responded in a voice that was both firm and appropriate and said, “President, I must stand!” There was simply no way that mighty Apostle was going to sit and pray in the presence of the First Presidency and his colleagues of the Quorum of the Twelve. And, more importantly, he was not going to sit as he communicated with his Heavenly Father. So once again Elder Haight struggled to stand—and finally was successful. I shall never forget the spirit I felt as I listened to Elder Haight pray. I hope on that occasion I was quick to observe a powerful lesson about the dignity and the reverence and the spirit that should attend our prayers.”[viii]
Great Shall Be Your Reward
David Whitmer was told “thou are called to assist; which thing if ye do, and are faithful, ye shall be blessed both spiritually and temporally, and great shall be your reward”: (D&C 14:11). We too are to assist. Sometimes that is our calling: to assist. We always don’t lead, we always don’t play a major role. At times, we are simply to assist in His work, and when we do, we will come to know Christ.
John and Peter Whitmer were told to “declare repentance unto this people” (D&C 15:6). I suspect if we were to ask for the Lord what would be of greatest worth for us to do, He would say something like “declare repentance unto this people” or testify whenever you can.
Elder Uchtdorf said, “If someone asks about your weekend, don’t hesitate to talk about what you experienced at church. Tell about the little children who stood in front of a congregation and sang with eagerness how they are trying to be like Jesus. Talk about the group of youth who spent time helping the elderly in rest homes to compile personal histories….. In whatever ways seem natural and normal to you, share with people why Jesus Christ and His Church are important to you. Invite them to ‘come and see.’ Then encourage them to come and help. There are numerous opportunities for people to help in our Church.”[ix]
Every testimony you bear, whether by what you say, what you do, how you assist or simply how you demonstrate your faith; is of great worth. By doing so, we might receive a similar promise as that given to John and Peter Whitmer, “that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father.” Share your testimony. Stand firm, like Galileo, in what you have seen, felt and observed. When you do, your testimony will grow, you will help others grow in faith and you might be the means of doing much good for those who hear your testimony.
[i] Robert D. Hales, The Importance of Receiving a Personal Testimony, October 1994 General Conference.
[ii] Dallin H. Oaks, Spirituality, October 1985 General Conference.
[iv] See quote by Elder Rudger Clawson, Revelations to John Whitmer and Peter Whitmer Jr., D&C student manual (2002), 31.
[v] Boyd K. Packer, The Candle of the Lord, Ensign, Jan. 1983, 54.
[vi] Spencer W. Kimball, The What and Why and How of Bearing a Testimony, New Era, Aug 1981, 4-7.
[vii] Chad Lawrence Neilsen, Zerah Pulsipher’s Conversion, The Pulsipher Place, Jan 11, 2014.
[viii] David A. Bednar, Quick to Observe, BYU Speeches, May 10, 2005.
[ix] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Missionary Work; Sharing What is in Your Heart, General Conference, April 2019.