Often, children teach their parents about barriers to faith. I recall a story that illustrates this. Years ago in Arizona, church members were asked to fast and pray to exercise their faith so that Heavenly Father would bring relief to a drought that threatened the harvest. It hadn’t rained for a long time. A husband and wife saw the faith of their young daughter in action as they prepared to leave for church. As they were backing out of their driveway, their daughter said, “stop the car daddy, I forgot my umbrella”. It was a hot sunny day, not a cloud in sight, but the little girl’s faith was focused on the purpose of the fast. She didn’t want to be without an umbrella. This is an example of the unbridled faith of a child. As adults, we need to relearn this kind of faith.
The Lord taught David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, about barriers to increasing faith:
But your mind has been on the things of the earth more than on the things of me, your Maker, and the ministry whereunto you have been called; and you have not given heed unto my Spirit, and to those who were set over you, but have been persuaded by those whom I have not commanded. D&C 30:2
There are many barriers to increasing faith, I’ll discuss a few that I am most familiar with.
First Barrier-Failing to Prioritize How We Spend Our Time
I’ve found it difficult to keep my focus properly balanced between the things of the earth and the things of my Maker. I’ll provide an example to illustrate what I mean.
In years past, I’ve had a hard time turning off the TV. Many times, the Spirit nudged me to spend more time studying the gospel. I didn’t heed the Spirit as I should have. After years of doing this, one day I decided to stop telling myself I deserved to relax after a hard days work by watching TV for hours on end. I decided to relax by studying the gospel.
There are other things besides TV (and the internet) that distract our focus from the things of our Maker. Some distractions can be considered educational or worthwhile. Consider the following:
First, being involved in such things as sports, music, gardening, volunteerism, and various other kinds of meritorious activities.
Second, being involved in intellectual pursuits. This would include any kind of intellectual endeavor: science, history, philosophy, politics, church history, Book of Mormon geography, and etc.
These kinds of activities in and of themselves are not the problem. The problem arises when we allow them to crowd out pursuits that build faith in Jesus Christ. Over involvement in “things of the earth” can leave church members with anemic faith. It’s like having a PhD in the things of the earth, and a sixth grade education in the things of our Maker. It leaves us ill equipped spiritually.
I like the counsel Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave on this subject:
“We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives…we have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord.” (Oct. 2007 General Conference, “Good, Better, Best”)
If we desire to draw nearer to the Lord, we need to diligently do those things the Lord’s given us to accomplish that goal. If we put our efforts in to other means than what he has revealed, we will be serving ourselves and not Lord (see Eight Ways to Increase Faith).
Second Barrier-Failure to Understand God’s Mercy
Some observers of Mormonism like to refer to Mormons as “guilt-ridden”. I think there can be some truth to this label.
Would be followers of Christ are aware of the long list of commandments their expected to keep. Those who wrestle with needless-guilt apparently don’t understand that the Lord doesn’t expect us to master all of the commandments while in mortality. We live in a fallen world and the power of the fall is such that there has been only one being born in this world who had the capacity to keep all of the commandments. Those who fail to understand this basic gospel concept struggle with guilt until they eventually conclude they’re not celestial material.
The plan of salvation’s power comes from making covenants, not by reaching down into our soul and with clenched fist, and the power of human resolve, make another valiant effort to overcome sin on our own.
When we covenant with the Lord we gain access to the blessings of the atonement. The whole purpose of the atonement of Jesus Christ is to “bring about the plan of mercy” (Alma 42:15) so you and I could eventually become celestial material with faith on Jesus Christ.
With a correct understanding of the Lord’s abiding mercy we’re never ridden with guilt even though we struggle with sin an imperfection. Our focus needs to be on the Savior and on the plan of salvation as taught in the scriptures.
A Book of Mormon prophet taught:
Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son. Alma 33:16
Alma taught his son a very important gospel principle that needs to be written in our hearts:
…only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.Alma 42:29
Failing to understand the mercy available to us because of the atonement can be a major barrier to increasing faith.
Third Barrier-Not Knowing the Dealings of that God Who Created Us
When you and I kneel before God in prayer, our concept of what he is like is present with us. If we believe things about him that are false, this can create a barrier to our faith.
I first experienced this barrier when I was fourteen. I learned at church that all those who are born in the covenant are choice spirits from the pre-mortal life. As I thought about this teaching—I realized I was not a choice spirit—I wasn’t born in the covenant. My dad wasn’t a member and my mother didn’t attend church. As this false idea took root, it didn’t take long before I began to believe I was a second class spirit.
I decided to ask the Bishop for a Patriarchal blessing. Maybe the Lord would tell me more about who I am. The Bishop said, I was too young. I was disappointed, but accepted what he said.
It wasn’t long after that that my parents divorced. None of my friend’s parents divorced, so I thought this is what happens to second-class spirits. We moved to a new neighborhood and that was the end of my activity in church for a season.
This is a simple example of how believing something about the Lord that isn’t true can cause us to stumble. I believe too many of us harbor false concepts about God’s character and how he deals with us.
I’ve found the Book of Mormon to be a source of truth about God’s dealings, the key to using the Book of Mormon is to liken it to ourselves. The Lord gave us the Book of Mormon so we could learn how he deals with his followers.
Why would the Lord provide the Book of Mormon that teaches us about the likes of Nephi, Enos, Alma (younger and older), Helaman, Lamoni, Jared, Mormon, Moroni, and etc., unless we can be like them, having the same spiritual possibilities?
I view the Book of Mormon as a “how to” book; how to do the works of Nephi, Enos, Alma and the other prophets.
Nephi rebellious brothers struggled because they didn’t understand God’s dealings:
And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them. 1 Nephi 2:12
Why didn’t they know the dealings of that God who had created them? The Book of Mormon answers this question in their own words:
The Lord maketh no such thing known to us. 1 Neph 15:9
Their “faith” was strong that God wouldn’t make such things known to them. Why, their hearts were hardened because they wouldn’t keep the commandments (1 Nephi 15:10-11)?
The Lord’s prophet’s admonish us to “feast on the words of Christ”. The prophet Joseph Smith taught us how to feast:
“Search the Scriptures—search the revelations which we publish, and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory, nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourself and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation.” ( History of the Church, 1:282.)