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I often review and cling to the example set by Nephi so many years ago when he wrote what is commonly referred to as “The Psalm of Nephi.” Recorded in 2 Nephi 4, Nephi tells of the troublesome aftermath of his father Lehi’s death when his brothers were again “angry with him because of the admonitions of the Lord.” I can imagine that Nephi was plain tired of this recurring problem with Laman and Lemuel, and we can only guess whether some impatient and even unkind responses to them might have prompted the words Nephi wrote in verses 17-19. “O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.”
Here’s the example part…almost immediately, in fact in the end of the very next verse, Nephi changes his focus: “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.” Then he lists many of his amazing experiences with the Lord and affirms his unshakable testimony and determination to turn to Him. If you haven’t reviewed that chapter recently, I recommend that you do so. It inspires me every time I read it, and this time it inspired me to review part of my own list of experiences that confirm my testimony and cause me to choose faith even when I do not feel it.
Where I First Learned of the “Test in Testimony”
A few years ago I heard retired institute instructor and author of the book Making Sense of Suffering, Wayne E. Brickey give a talk on testimony. He said, “A testimony comes from conducting a test; bearing your testimony is reporting the results of the test.”
Soon after, I stood and bore my testimony that the Lord works through those who are ordained to His priesthood to comfort and counsel His children. I had conducted the test when my heart was broken over the suicide of my son and I was in dire need of comfort and counsel. In this testimony I reported the results of the test: I felt strongly that my bishop had spoken the very words of the Lord to me on three separate occasions; the first in a blessing the day my son died that did comfort me and give me wise counsel. My husband gave me priesthood blessings as well that poured more of the Lord’s comforting, healing words into my heart.
Why is the testing part of testimony essential? Any of us who have lived through difficult challenges can attest that those experiences have brought the greatest deepening of testimony. A fundamental part of mortality itself is the testing. I’ve heard many times that if only “good” things happened to good people and only “bad” things happened to bad people, there would be no test. If the rewards of righteousness followed immediately after every good deed, and the grievous consequences of breaking the commandments happened the second they were broken, there would be no repeat sinners.
When we have to wait for answers there is great “testimony value” in all our tests as long as we turn to God and continue to seek the Spirit. Testimony is strengthened when we continue to repent, learn, and pay the spiritual price for understanding and healing from the tests, even when justice and rewards may not come until the next life. Experience is replete with opportunities for testimony building.
Real Testimony Is Born of the Spirit
Experience does not automatically yield testimony, however. The Spirit is the key. Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “A testimony is a witness or confirmation of eternal truth impressed upon individual hearts and souls through the Holy Ghost, whose primary ministry is to testify of truth, particularly as it relates to the Father and the Son” (Ensign Nov. 2004, p.40).
In the manual Teachings of Heber J. Grant the headings in chapter 7 (pp. 63-69), entitled Personal and Abiding Testimony teach us that:
- Testimony comes as personal revelation from God through the Holy Ghost.
- We receive and strengthen our testimonies through prayer, study, and obedience to the Lord.
- Our testimonies grosw stronger as we share them.
- Testimony gives us ability and courage to accomplish the work of the Lord.
This chapter indicates that pure testimony witnessed by the Holy Ghost has an immediate impact on our lives, and no one can tell us that our spiritual witness is not so. No “scientific evidence” or peer pressure, or mountain of opposing opinion can convince us that what we know is true is not true. President Heber J. Grant said, “When a man has received the witness of the Holy Spirit, when a man has received the knowledge that this gospel is true, and he knows it, and he proclaims it, the whole world, not believing, cannot change the knowledge that he has.” (Conference Report, Oct. 1911, 23.)
Can Testimonies Be Passed from One Person to Another?
Brother Brickey said we must drink from experience − we cannot pour from one cup of testimony to another, cannot give one who has not conducted the test the ability to report the results of the experience. Perhaps that is why the Lord told Joseph Smith that “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7).
In regard to our children we can warn, cheer for, and share the results of our own tests, but we cannot give them what we have. Enos had to conduct the test before he could bear the strong testimony he shares in the Book of Mormon. Anything we do to short-circuit the need to conduct the test is a disservice.
However, our faith and motivation to find out for ourselves grow exponentially as we hear the testimony of others. In the Second Lecture on Faith, par. 56 we read: “We have now clearly set forth how it is, and how it was, that God became an object of faith for rational beings; and also, upon what foundation the testimony was based, which excited the enquiry and diligent search of the ancient saints, to seek after and obtain a knowledge of the glory of God: and we have seen that it was human testimony, and human testimony only, that excited this enquiry, in the first instance in their minds—it was the credence they gave to the testimony of their fathers—this testimony having aroused their minds to enquire after the knowledge of God, the enquiry frequently terminated, indeed, always terminated, when rightly pursued, in the most glorious discoveries, and eternal certainty.”
Miraculous things can happen when we bear testimony to each other of the things we know by experience to be true. While we cannot “give” others the testimony we have received from our experiences, pure testimony borne by the Spirit can change those who hear it by the Spirit and motivate them to conduct the “test” themselves.
The vital key in sharing testimony is that we do it as prompted and directed by the Spirit. In D&C 50:21, 22 we read: “ . . . he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth. Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.” It is always the Spirit of God that convinces, not the words uttered.
All who have passed the test in testimony and received the blessings of comfort and affirmation of truth are doubly blessed when they witness to others of the truths they have come to know. As we bear pure testimony, the Spirit swells our own hearts to overflowing, sometimes spilling out in tears. We are left with a deeper surer testimony from the additional spiritual confirmation we receive as we share.
A solid witness of belief, a solemn declaration of truth tested by experience is often confirmed to the heart of the speaker and to the hearts of listeners by the Holy Ghost at the same moment − especially in regard to basic truths that save our souls. If we speak saving truths clearly and avoid cluttering them up, the Holy Ghost will confirm them. That is the process of conversion; that is the secret of true missionary work.
The Power of Knowing through Experience
Brother Brickey indicated that a testimony is the witness of an expert − the conclusions drawn from experience, the knowledge gathered from an experiment completed, a test that yielded results. I testify that the Lord lives and loves us because I have experienced that love, have felt His sustaining power in the darkest moments of my life. I first felt the power of the Comforter when my former husband was in a plane crash and nearly lost his life. I remember saying then that I was no longer afraid of “what might happen” because I had experienced for myself that the Comforter helps you get through whatever comes. I felt the sustaining power of the Comforter when passing through the crucible of divorce. I felt it when I witnessed my father’s lips moving in obvious prayer although he was too weak to talk just hours before he died. I felt the Comforter filling our house with peace after my mother saw through the veil “people,” who said, ‘look at Fern. She’s almost ready. We will come and get her in three weeks.’” I looked at the clock after she drew her final breath in that same room, just a few feet from where I sit today, and noted that it was three weeks to the hour since she had told me of her experience.
The presence of the Spirit during those difficult days transformed them into mountaintop experiences for me. I learned each time that joy is not the absence of pain, but the presence of God. Nearly two decades ago I felt the protecting, loving hands of the Lord when my life was spared in a freeway accident and I lay bedfast for three months. And perhaps most meaningfully, for nearly fourteen years I have been sustained day to day in the aftermath of the heart-wrenching experience of my son’s death. I bear witness that there is nothing we need fear in this life as long as we hold fast to our connection with the Holy Spirit. In all these experiences I have conducted the “test” and am able to report the “results” in testimony. I bear witness of the truth of the 23rd Psalm, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
Knowing for Sure
I have no need to live on borrowed light in regard to these truths. In his conference talk called “Pure Testimony,” Elder Russell M. Ballard indicates that testimony is not what we are thankful for or what we love, but what we know. (Ensign, Nov. 2004, pp. 40-42) What do I know because of these experiences?
I know that the doctrines of the spirit world and of the eternal nature of man are true. I know that God lives. I have felt His comforting, sustaining, loving power in my life more times than I can count. I know that my Redeemer lives and that His resurrection broke the bands of death for all of us, assuring me and assuring you of a glorious resurrection. I know that Jesus, the Son of God, was sent not only to wash away our sins but to bear our griefs and wipe away our tears − because He is doing that for me.
I know the fullness of the gospel has been restored and is found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I experience strength from the unique blessings of that restoration every day of my life. The blessings I have received from the restoration of the priesthood are too numerous to mention. I’m alive because of it. I’m spiritually intact because of it. I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God, another witness of Christ, a glorious addition to the Bible, a balm to my soul. It proves evidence after evidence that all the above are true. Everything else in my testimony is supplemental − not central. These are the saving truths, these are the precious gems confirmed to my soul by the Holy Ghost and offered to you with a humble prayer that the tests in your life may lead you to report the results in testimony as these truths are confirmed to you.