Faith is a term that can be used to describe the state of mind one possesses when they seek to do something. When someone starts a business, enters into a contract, climbs a mountain, writes a book, for example, it can be said they are exercising faith. However, faith is most often associated with religious thought and endeavors. (Sometimes the words believe and trust can be used in the place of faith.)
I’ve learned that faith can ebb and flow depending on what is happening in our lives. When our prayers are answered we see the hand of the Lord guiding us, we can feel our faith surge. When our prayers go unanswered the opposite can occur, we don’t see the hand of the Lord guiding us, we can feel our faith retreat.
My earliest experience with religious faith came when as a child I was taught that Heavenly Father hears and answers prayer. I remember my mother teaching me to pray.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I shall die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
As I grew older my faith in God diminished. I’d learned some things at church that lead me to think of myself as a second class spirit.I didn’t forget God, I just thought of myself as being second class.
That all changed one day. It was 1966, the Viet Nam war was in full swing. I had been drafted and was in basic training preparing to go to war. As a worldly nineteen year old I decided to ask Heavenly Father if there was anything to the stories I had heard about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
My prayer was answered in a way that didn’t leave any room for doubt or the possibility of ever forgetting (see My Experience with the Savior). As I look back to that experience with nearly fifty years of reflection, I realize now what an incredible blessing I was given. I came away from that experience knowing that Heavenly Father was there, heard my prayer, and delivered me. I also learned that there are two powers competing for our attention and that God was the ultimate power. My faith was increased many fold because of this manifestation.
In the next few paragraphs I am going to try to distill a life time of experience with faith into a few brief paragraphs. I do so with the hope that something I pass along will be useful to my readers.
I think of faith as a prerequisite gift. Without the gift of faith none of the other gifts of the Spirt are available. The scriptures teach that we lived in a pre-mortal existence before we came to mortality. We had opportunities there, as we do here, to seek and cultivate the gift of faith. Without faith there are no miracles, no manifestations of the gift of the Holy Ghost, or gifts of the Spirit (Ether 12:12).
Learn all you can about the doctrine of faith from the scriptures and church leaders. But know this, the Lord bestows the gifts of the spirit on all church members who seek them, not just those who preside in leadership positions. It’s important to understand this, otherwise we incorrectly reason that the gifts of the spirit are for a few individuals holding prominent leadership positions instead of being dispersed widely and generously throughout the church (D&C 46:8-12).
2. Secure the gift of the Holy Ghost and the associated gifts of the Spirit for yourself.
Attending church meetings and fulfilling our callings are essential to be a true follower of Christ, doing so is evidence of our faith. However, this alone is not enough.
Activity in the church is essential but insufficient in and of itself to secure the gift of the Holy Ghost. I think this is clearly portrayed in the parable of the Ten Virgins.
We need to diligently exercise faith in addition to attending church and fulfilling our callings. The Book of Mormon illustrates the kind of faith I’m referring to. Lehi, Nephi, Enos, Alma the older, Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah, and many others practiced this kind of faith. There are many verses from the Book of Mormon that teach this principle, I think the following verse is among the best :
…they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God. Alma 17:2-3
If we do likewise we will secure similar blessings. I can testify that this is true, I’ve done as they did, and experienced the gift of the Holy Ghost and the gifts of the Spirit that flow therefrom.
3. Dealing with challenges to our Faith
As followers of Christ we’re going to encounter opposition and have trials of our faith (2 Nephi 2:11, Mosiah 23:21). Heavenly Father designed our mortal experience saying he would have a tried people. Opposition and trials come in many forms. In the internet age some church members are being tried by issues in church history
When I returned from my mission in the early 1970′s I decided to learn all I could about doctrine and church history. In that pre-internet day I had to do extensive research to find what is now available with the click of a mouse. It didn’t take long before I learned things that were challenging. I can understand the heartache and disappointment that can come to those who discover faith destroying information on the internet. Some lose their faith but still attend church, others abandon their faith altogether. A few leave the church but then feel obligated to destroy the faith of others.
Even though my research uncovered information that was unsettling, I was able to deal with it because of the depth and breadth of my testimony. I had already been through several crisis of faith. I’d learned that turning to God with full purpose of heart and pleading with Him for help is the key to surviving a crisis of faith. Not everyone has sufficient faith and testimony to deal with the various challenges that can visit them, church history is but one kind. I think the best explanation for various ways we can respond to challenges to our faith is found in the Saviors parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-25).
4. The Lord warns his followers not to put their trust in the arm of fresh (2 Nephi 28:31).
However, that doesn’t mean we can’t have confidence in the skills and talents of well-trained men and women; God can and does work through them to our benefit. The key is to have faith in Heavenly Father, not in the arm of flesh.
I learned this when I’ve needed medical attention. In our day, the Lord has revealed many things to mankind through the sciences. When help is needed, have faith in Heavenly Father relying on his guidance and then seek help from “the arm of flesh”.
5. Have Faith in Christ
The forth Article of Faith list four basic principle of the gospel. The first principle is to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a reason why this is listed first. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of mankind. He came into the world to atone for our sins.
He descended below all things. This means he suffered for my sins, and your sins. He willing did this so we wouldn’t have to suffer for sin if we would have faith in Him and repent.
I find it difficult to write about the Savior. I don’t feel I can begin to write anything meaningful. I hope I can be His friend, He has been a friend to me. One day, soon I hope, I will meet Him and I hope to be made a joint-heir and invited to follow Him into the presence of the Father.
6. How does one know if s/he is making progress in things of the Spirit?
Should we decide to take the pulse of our spirituality to determine our standing with the Lord there is one sure way to know if we are moving in the right direction: are we experiencing the fruits of the Spirit on a regular basis, does the Lord hear and answer our prayers, do we see his hand guiding our walk–in other words, are we the recipients of his tender mercies? If yes, then we’re doing something right, if not, President Thomas S. Monson counseled:
“If you do not now have such a relationship with your Father in Heaven, I urge you to work toward that goal. As you do so, you will be entitled to His inspiration and guidance in your life—necessities for each of us if we are to survive spiritually during our sojourn here on earth. Such inspiration and guidance are gifts He freely gives if we but seek them.” Stand in Holy Places, Oct 2011 General Conference