By the time I was in 8th grade I stop going to church. One of the reasons I left church activity was what I learned at church. I learned 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.
It wasn’t long after that that my parents divorced. None of my friend’s parents were 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. I dropped out of school and took up with friends who lived after the ways of this world.
A few years later I was drafted and faced the possibility of combat in Viet Nam, I thought more and more about what I had learned at church. One day, while in this frame of mind, I decided to read the Book of Mormon. I said to myself, “if it is true then I will change my life. If not, then I will entirely forget about religion.”
I offered a prayer, telling Heavenly Father my plan and invited Him to bless me to know about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. The next night, a few minutes after getting into bed, I received an answer to my prayer. I should say, a partial answer. I was given an experience similar to what Joseph Smith wrote about when he said, “I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak…it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction…to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being”(JS-History 1:15-16).
While I was in the grip of this power from the unseen—but now visible world, I realized the incredible hate this evil being had for me as I listened to his vulgar, threatening words. I called upon God to deliver me, and my prayer was immediately answered!
I watched as this evil being, defeated by prayer, walked away into the night.
This kind of experience creates an instant testimony. It was a dramatic and powerful occurrence. It left no room for doubt about the presence of God and satan. But this was not a sanctifying experience in the sense of a “mighty change of heart” that would come years later.
I’m embarrassed to say that even after the Lord provided this life-changing encounter, I returned to my old habits. It took me numerous attempts to break away from the old life style I had been living before I was able to bring some order into my life.
After a few months I decided to attend church. I also commenced to read the Book of Mormon. I started new friendships and put former, less-desirable ones behind me. It took me about three months to complete the Book of Mormon. I loved every minute of it! The Holy Ghost was with me as I read. I wrote down questions and literally hungered for the truths of the gospel. When I completed my study of the Book of Mormon, I didn’t need to ask the Lord if it was true. I knew it was true by the manifestation of the Holy Ghost that I experienced on a daily basis as I read it.
I was very excited about the gospel and the testimony I’d received. I read everything I could get my hands on. I decided that I wanted to tell others about the restoration of the gospel, so I turned in my papers to serve a mission. The Lord drew very near to me at this time. It was as though I were encircled about in the arms of His love.
Before I received my call, the Lord revealed to me where I would serve my mission. This was made known to me by the whisperings of the Spirit. My farewell talk at church was a spiritual treat for me and those in attendance because of the Spirit that was there. (With that Spirit present, I believe I could have recited the A, B, C’s and it would have been edifying.)
In the mission field I encountered trials and difficulties of every kind. The first part of my mission was tough, but I was determined to serve God and I worked very hard in His behalf. I would characterize my mission as being very average. At times I felt very close to the Lord; at other times it was as though I was left to myself. I learned that my ability to teach the gospel effectively, in other words, with the Spirit, was related to the receptiveness of the person my companion and I were teaching.
At the end of my mission I felt I had served the Lord diligently. When I arrived home I was tired, but thankful to have my mission behind me. My homecoming talk was a dud. I wondered at the difference; why was my farewell talk so uplifting and my homecoming talk just the opposite? I concluded that the workings of the Spirit are not easily understood, just as described in the scriptures (Ecclesiastes 11:5).
“It is Quite as Necessary for You to be Tried, Even as Abraham and Other Men of God”
I was excited about my future and about my first experience as a college student. I had been dating a wonderful girl for about a year, and we were considering marriage. I was very much in love with her, and I felt certain that she was going to be my wife.
On one of those evenings when couples talk freely about their life’s experiences, I shared with her some things about myself when I had been inactive. From that time forward our relationship began to decline. Her upbringing was such that she couldn’t handle a relationship with an Alma the younger kind of guy—a church going Nephi type of guy was a better match for her. I know that now, but I didn’t realize it then, so I pushed on. By the time school started I had a serious case of heartache—extreme heartache. She was seeing another person and told me she loved me, but was also falling in love with him.
When she told me this I was angry, I even raised my fist towards heaven and using profanity swore at Lord for letting this happen. I learned later, He had nothing to do with it. Within hours, I sought forgiveness and divine help!
Remission of Sins by Fire and the Holy Ghost
I approached the Lord in prayer and within a day or two found myself experiencing a dimension of prayer that was new to me. As I poured out my soul to the Lord asking for His help, I told Him that I wanted to keep his commandment regarding marriage, and that I had found the girl I wanted to marry. I explained that we had dated for over a year and that we were temple worthy and pleaded for his help. I made covenants that I would be the best husband and father that I could be. I found myself praying for hours at a time—in fact, I couldn’t stop praying. When I wasn’t on my knees praying, prayer flowed from my heart. I was praying without ceasing. The channels of communication were open, and I knew the Lord was hearing my prayers. I had received a gift from the Lord—the gift of prayer. I lost interest in food and was essentially fasting every day and ate food only to keep my strength up. I began to lose weight. I was showing up for my classes, but I was supplicating the Lord with all my heart, might, mind, strength, and soul.
One day, while praying, a question formed in my mind that I knew came from the Lord—“lovest her more than me?” This question needed to be answered and I responded, “Lord, thou knowest I love thee, bless me to love thee more perfectly.” From this point on my prayers turned to my relationship with the Lord. I explained to the Lord that I was not going to stop praying to Him until I received an answer, and that I would accept His will no matter what it was—and I meant what I said. I thought about all my sins and pled for forgiveness. At this point, a pain entered into my heart that I cannot describe. I’d never felt anything like it before. It was intense heart-pain. Not from the heart that pumps blood, but from the heart that resides at the center of our being—the place where our fondest hopes and dreams emanate. I cried many tears and realized anew my nothingness! I understood more than ever before my unworthiness and I begged the Lord to apply his atoning blood so that I could be made clean. I desired above all things to be free from my sins.
I raised these earnest, heart-felt prayers for more than a two week period. One evening as I was preparing for bed, all I could do was kneel by my bed and say a very short prayer; I was physically and spiritually exhausted. I reminded the Lord that I was going to continue to call upon Him until I received an answer. A few minutes after getting into bed in the throes of a gloomy and forlorn mood, I felt something in the room change. As I focused my attention, I realized the Spirit had entered the room and my heart, and joy replaced gloominess and sadness! It was like a refreshing breeze entering into a hot and stuffy room. I knew I was to get out of bed and open my scriptures. The page fell open to D&C 84, and I started to read at verse 44. As I read these words, I knew the Lord was speaking to me, and when I read verse 61, I knew that my sins were forgiven. I raised a silent shout of joy to my Savior!
The following Sunday while at Sacrament meeting, I received another manifestation of the Spirit. While taking the sacrament I experienced the presence of “fire.” I looked around the room to see if anyone else was aware of what I was experiencing. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I knew it was from God. I felt peace, love, and joy, and raised my voice in prayer thanking the Lord for his great kindness to me. I felt clean and pure and extremely close to Heavenly Father.
Comforted by the Holy Ghost
My girl friend and I broke up a couple of months after this experience. I cannot describe the pain and unrest I felt, but I had told the Lord His will be done, for as much as I loved her, I loved the Lord more. I prayed that I would be able to stand up under the afflictions that came to me, and I had faith the Lord would continue to be with me in my trials.
For several nights, when my heartache was at its worst, I was visited by the Holy Ghost and learned for myself what the scriptures mean about the Holy Ghost being a “comforter.”
What can I say to you as a reader of my words to convey the least part of what I experienced? Just know that God is love and he desires to heal us from our sins. He wants to give to us the gift of eternal life! When Nephi says, “He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh,” I can verify his words and bear a similar testimony with my own lips because of the experiences the Lord gave me in the days of my severest trials.
I am so thankful that the Lord extended his love and kindness to me in such marvelous ways. I love the Lord because he loved me first. I can hardly believe that these experiences were given to me; I feel completely unworthy to receive these things. But then again, that’s the point, forgiveness of sins comes through the grace of Jesus Christ.
These experiences changed how I viewed the Book of Mormon. I could now identify with the likes of Enos, the people of king Benjamin, and others who experienced a remission of sins. I knew the Savior of mankind heard my prayers and blessed me with some measure of being born again by fire and the Holy Ghost.
I engaged myself in school and read the Book of Mormon with new eyes and understanding. The Holy Ghost was my constant companion in those days. I felt and comprehended things in ways I never had before. I asked the Lord to bless me to meet people who were like Nephi, and I also prayed to learn to know more about the Lord and His church. My prayers were answered in short order, and I marveled at the variety of people I became acquainted with. I learned things from them about the Lord, His prophets, and His church. They amazed me and also challenged me greatly. I realized for the first time that our church history and doctrine could challenge the strongest church-member’s testimony and even be the root cause for some members to lose their testimonies.
Dealing with the Challenge of Church History and Doctrine
I enjoyed my college experience, but my interest in doctrine and church history eclipsed anything else I was studying. Because of the many Spiritual experiences I had been given, I was insulated from the “fiery darts” of the adversary that came to me as I studied—I could not be moved. I prayed for answers to my new-found questions and the answer was always the same: we live in a fallen world and we’re here to be tried and proven, and there is opposition in all things. Be still and know that I am God.
From those days until the most recent time, the Lord has been near, but not as near as He was for the first few years after my experience with the sacrament. I can relate to what Joseph Smith said after he experienced the First Vision and was born again:
After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world. D&C 20:5
I can say that a person who has experienced a “mighty change” doesn’t have a disposition to do evil, at least not in the same way as prior to this experience. However, it would be wrong to say that temptations and sin are no longer a factor of life. That just wouldn’t be true. King Benjamin taught his people how to retain a remission of their sins after they were born again and experienced the mighty change (Mosiah 4:26).
In the years and decades that have followed, I have been blessed with many experiences with the things of the spirit. When I have needed help, the Lord has blessed me abundantly. I have been given visions, dreams, and received the ministering of unseen angels in answer to prayer. However, I have had to struggle in the spirit and pay a price for these blessings. There have been many times I have prayed and have been unable to obtain an answer to my prayers. This is frustrating, but who am I to counsel the Lord?
If there is only one thing you remember from this account I hope this will be it: the Savior gave His life for you and He cannot extend the complete gift and benefits of the atonement to you until you offer up a broken heart and contrite spirit (2 Nephi 2:6-8). Based on my personal experiences, I have learned that offering up an acceptable sacrifice is accomplished when you plead with Him for forgiveness of your sins. When you acknowledge your fallen nature and realize your dependence upon Him (Christ) for entrance into God the Father’s presence, then you will be on the high road to fulfilling your baptismal covenant and spiritual potential. My prayer is that this will be your gift from Heaven.