Good afternoon. My name is Mark Johnson. I am nineteen, and Tuesday I leave for the Missionary Training Center. I have been looking forward to this time for just about my whole life. For that long I have felt like this talk was already assigned.
(More introduction about me added impromptu)
In my preparation for today I got to choose my own topic. Unlike all my previous talks, I actually started really thinking about this one a couple months ago. Each Sunday I took some notes about what seemed like I could include in my talk, and throughout the week I wrote experiences I had, and insight I gained. About a week and a half ago, my mission prep reading brought me to several chapters on faith. They struck me particularly powerfully. The notes I was making reflect this, as I recorded many points, relevant memories, and learning experiences. I realized that developing true faith is paramount in this life.
Reflecting on my life, during this time, also helped me connect a constellation of key events in my past. These events all dealt with the question: why do I not have more faith and how can I gain more.
I remember long ago laying in my bed one Sunday night. In church we had learned about heavenly messengers visiting one person or another and connected the lesson with the experiences of the brother of Jared, and the appearance of the angle Moroni in young Joseph Smith’s room. I concluded, that if I could muster enough faith, I would be able to see angels too. I was disappointed to find that no angel came to my room that night.
This leads to the question: If I can’t forcibly conjure faith into being, how does it come about?
Alma describes how to gain faith in a familiar Book of Mormon story, comparing faith to a seed. I would like to urge all of you to reserve some time, and carefully read Alma 32 and in particular, verse 21, and verses 26 to the final verse, 43 later today.
Before studying the section in preparation for this talk, I felt I had a good understanding of what is said, but all this time I have missed a crucial point.
Verse 21 contains, “And now as I said concerning faith—afaithis not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith yebhopefor things which arecnotseen, which are true.”
Faith is in things which are true.
In verse 27, Alma begins the comparison saying: “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words”
The first step, is to have a desire to have faith. To know if this church is true.
Alma assures us that only the smallest amount of faith is required to begin the experiment.
The second step is to plant the seed in your heart, and to not cast it out because of your unbelief. Being rather science-minded, I like the use of the word: experiment. It implies that the seed's progression must be carefully tracked and it must be given the best possible chance.
At this point in the experiment, deciding that the seed will fail before all of the data is recorded, can become a self-fulfilling prophesy, and will doom the experiment to failure, the seed will be cast out because of our unbelief. Closing our mind to the possibility of the seeds growth effectively places a bucket over the seed. We will be unable to see its growth. If we never nourish it, it withers away having never been recognized.
If we avoid these traps, and properly allow the seed to grow within us, I promise, along with Alma, that we will both know and feel that it is a good seed. That this seed of faith, which when we have nourished, can in fact become a strong thing.
It is important to take the observation at that point. Write it down, and remember it. As of that Sunday night, the seed had been planted, but I had never really made a formal observation: "This seed is good, I should nourish it, so that it can grow and bring forth fruit."
After recognizing the value of the seed, its small green stem should not be forgotten as a successful memory. It should be held close, and nourished, so it can grow and develop into a tree. Noticing the tiny stem poke through the earth is only the beginning. It is important to take the observation of initial success, and goodness of the seed at that point. Write it down, and remember it.
I was baptized 11 years ago, and I have known about this story since before my memory reaches. I have always assumed that my seed has already been planted, and that it is growing in its own plot of my spiritual back yard. I supposed that my weekly attendance to church was the needed rainfall, trimming, and fertilization that my fledgling tree required.
Alma says in verse 38 of this chapter 32, “But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.”
The important thing in this verse, is that we must be sure to not become complacent in our faith, no matter how developed the faith is. Attention must be applied very regularly, to the point of habit, to care for the tree representing our faith.
This is the verse that I never understood and internalized. My own faith was not a daily consideration, and therefore my faith languished for several years. Through humbling experiences and time, I once again desired greater faith, unfortunately for me, I did not realize my failure to keep my faith a daily consideration, and prayer frequent. My desire for more faith increased, yet I could not figure out how I could attain such faith.
SO HOW DO I INCREASE MY FAITH, NOW THAT I HAVE SOME AND WANT TO?
I wished for a special protein shake to drink, which would give me the faith of Enoch. What my attitude lacked was more than desire. Having desire to have faith is simply the first step in the experiment and yields only the first results on its own.
I needed to prune the faith which had been left on its own for so long
In luke chapter 17 verse 5 the apostles requested of Jesus: “Lord, increase our faith.” Interestingly, he chooses to respond to the question “Lord, how can we increase our faith,” but He does so in a way that does not easily reveal the answer. He speaks of a master, and how the master interacts with his servant. He responds with a parable:
“7But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?
8 And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?
9 Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.
10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.
I take this to mean that while we work we must strive to be more and more humble, a point that is reinforced in Mosiah 2:21.
Faith in the Lord, without works, is dead. We must stive to always keep His commandments, and in doing so, our faith is increased. It is a positive feedback loop that is only too easy to break or attenuate. But if we commit ourselves to consistently exercise faith, the faith consistently grows
The index of topics at lds.org says that faith is like a muscle. The more it is exercised, the larger and stronger it gets. It is an exercise of faith to labor in the Lords fields, and the labor increases that faith. Our trust in the lord, and our effort, striving to keep His commandments will result in a much stronger tree.
HOW TO EXERCISE FAITH
During the past few months, as I have been preparing to leave on my mission, I have been trying to live my life more like a missionary would. In the process, I decided to try to increase my spirituality to the level a missionary needs in order to properly function. I asked myself, "How do I do this?".
What I observed that increased my spirituality daily, was listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, keeping a calm mind, and striving to offer prayers frequently. My mission prep reading talked about always having a prayer in our heart.
Always having a prayer in my heart seemed like a simple enough task at first so I went ahead and tried for a day. When I reviewed my progress that day, I was disappointed. Most of the day I hadn’t even considered offering a prayer.
The problem was that I had engaged in several activities which had shifted the eternal perspective to the back of my mind for an extended period of time. This happened because of a song I listened to, because of a stressful event, or because I did something I was familiar with, and lapsed into old habits of thinking, so not joining the activity with a spiritual mindset. As I examined each day I decided to phase out tv, hulu, stop playing video games, start waking up earlier than 1 pm, and work to reduce idle time by being more productive.
The next day I set about avoiding the activities that had the effect of side tracking my mind from a spiritual focus. I also strived to alter my habit of not reflecting on spiritual matters during the day.
Although I still had several full hours throughout the day without thought of the gospel or a prayer, I had made quite a difference in the mood of my day! Excited, I resolved to improve each day. It can be hard to change habits of though. Moments alone, in the car, on a walk, or otherwise can be used to remember one's testimony and to restore a calm and spiritual mindset to the day's activities, thus approaching the rest of the day with a demeanor that will allow you to keep your eternal progression as a central focus.
If you concentrate each day on improving your relationship with our Heavenly Father, I testify to you that your faith will greatly increase, and your happiness will increase in step.