There is a WEALTH of material to work with on this one. I went a little heavy on the quotes because there were just so many good ones, and I feel like I can't say them any better. You may choose to use less.
We started by singing "I believe in Christ" and it brought just the right spirit for the lesson. If you can't sing that as the opening song, I recommend maybe bringing a laptop or iPad and playing your favorite performance of that song.
What is a testimony? What do it mean to say you have one?
Quote 1: “In order for us to be strong and to withstand all the forces pulling us in the wrong direction … , we must have our own testimony. Whether you are 12 or 112—or anywhere in between—you can know for yourself that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true.”
Is it having a testimony a YES or NO thing?
- Making it a hard yes or no can be alienating. Maybe you don’t have a testimony of each part of the Gospel, but you have gained a testimony of certain things. Maybe all you have is “I know that God lives” but you don’t have a testimony of the temple or endowment ceremonies yet.
- Brought to my mind a 2008 conference talk from Neil L. Anderson, Quote: “Nearly 40 years ago as I contemplated the challenge of a mission, I felt very inadequate and unprepared. I remember praying, “Heavenly Father,how can I serve a mission when I know so little?” I believed in the Church,but I felt my spiritual knowledge was very limited. As I prayed, the feeling came: “You don’t know everything, but you know enough!”
- Quote 2: “Some people speak of a testimony as if it were a light switch—it’s either on or off; you either have a testimony, or you do not. In reality, a testimony is more like a tree that passes through various stages of growth and development. Some of the tallest trees on earth are found in Redwood National Park in the western United States. When you stand at the base of these massive trees, it is amazing to think that each one grew from a tiny seed. So it is with our testimonies. Although they may begin with a single spiritual experience, they grow and develop over time through constant nourishment and frequent spiritual encounters.”
Quote 3: “It is a sacred gift from God that comes to us by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is the calm, unwavering certainty we receive as we study, pray, and live the gospel. It is the feeling of the Holy Ghost bearing witness to our souls that what we are learning and doing is right.”
Why is it important to have a testimony?
Quote 4: “I maintain that a strong testimony of our Savior and of His gospel will …protect you from the sin and evil around you. … If you do not already have a testimony of these things, do that which is necessary to obtain one. It is essential for you to have your own testimony, for the testimonies of others will carry you only so far.”
Elder Christensen makes a special point that your testimony must be your own. He says:
Quote 5: “Learning for ourselves that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is true can be one of the greatest and most joyful experiences in life. We may have to begin by relying on the testimonies of others—saying, as the stripling warriors did, “We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” This is a good place to start, but we must build from there. To be strong in living the gospel, there is nothing more important than receiving and strengthening our own testimony. We must be able to declare, as Alma did, “I … know these things of myself.””
It changes how we act. Elder Christensen goes talks a lot about Nephi and how he gained a testimony of his own.
Quote 6: “These personal experiences with the Lord prepared Nephi for the adversity and challenges he would soon face. They enabled him to stand strong even when others in his family were struggling. He could do this because he had learned for himself and he knew for himself. He had been blessed with his own testimony.”
What are your thoughts on this? Nephi and Leman both left Jerusalem and traveled into the wilderness because their father told them to. But Nephi went to the Lord to gain his own confirmation. When Lehi began to murmur, of course Leman was right there with him. But Nephi wasn’t just following his father, so he didn’t follow him in dissent. He journeyed on for himself.
Elder Uchtdorf says we need a testimony because that is how Heavenly Father communicates with us. Quote 7: “Scientists were struggling to understand the breadth of the universe until instruments became sophisticated enough to gather in greater light so they could understand a more complete truth. The Apostle Paul taught a parallel principle regarding spiritual knowledge.“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” he wrote to the Corinthians, “for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” In other words, if you want to recognize spiritual truth, you have to use the right instruments. You can’t come to an understanding of spiritual truth with instruments that are unable to detect it. The Savior has told us in our day, “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.””
How do we gain a testimony?
- Study the scriptures
- Quote 8: “My own testimony began as I studied and pondered the teachings found in the Book of Mormon. As I knelt down to ask God in humble prayer, the Holy Ghost testified to my soul that what I was reading was true. This early witness became the catalyst for my testimony of many other gospel truths, for, as President Monson taught: “When we know the Book of Mormon is true, then it follows that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet and that he saw God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. It also follows that the gospel was restored in these latter days through Joseph Smith—including the restoration of both the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods.”
- Elder Uchtdorf: “First, you must search the word of God. That means reading the scriptures and studying the words of the ancient as well as modern prophets regarding the restored gospel of Jesus Christ—not with an intent to doubt or criticize but with a sincere desire to discover truth.”
- Elder Uchtdorf: “Second, you must consider, ponder, fearlessly strive to believe”
- Elder Uchtdorf: “Third, you must ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unto you. Ask with a sincere heart and with real intent, having faith in Christ.”
- Test it out
- Elder Uchtdorf: “when you are trying to verify the truth of gospel principles, you must first live them. Put gospel doctrine and Church teachings to the test in your own life.”
Joseph Smith provides an pattern for all of this.
Quote 9: “He wanted to know which church was right. Inspired by these words in the Bible, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God,” he acted for himself to find an answer. On a beautiful morning in the spring of 1820, he entered a grove of trees and knelt in prayer. Because of his faith and because God had a special work for him to do, Joseph received a glorious vision of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and learned for himself what he was to do.”
This is a bit more personal question, but how do YOU know that something is true? Elder Uchtdorf says: “He will speak to them in dreams, visions, thoughts, and feelings.”
Sometimes, faith is just a gift. We see this in the book of Moroni when he is outlining the various types of spiritual gifts. Chapter 10, Verse 11: “And to another, exceedingly great faith.” There it is. Some people are just blessed to just know. No questions. My dad has this gift. My husband has this gift. Sometimes I envy it. What a cool gift! But again, it is different for each.
How do we KEEP a testimony?
1. Never Finished
Why are we talking about gaining a testimony, or why it’s important? I would venture that most of you have some form of testimony. So why were there TWO talks about it in the last conference?
Quote 10: “If we ignore or neglect these early spiritual promptings, if we do not nurture them by continuing to study the scriptures and pray and by seeking more experiences with the Spirit, our feelings will fade and our testimonies will diminish.” (Christensen)
- I once had a fireside instructor compare testimony to walking up the down escalator. As long as we steadily move, we will eventually reach the top. But if we stop moving, the momentum will carry us back down.
Quote 11: “By the same token, if we remove ourselves from the light of the gospel,our own light begins to dim—not in a day or a week but gradually overtime—until we look back and can’t quite understand why we had ever believed the gospel was true. Our previous knowledge might even seem foolish to us because what once was so clear has again become blurred,hazy, and distant.” (Uchtdorf)
Quote 12: “Let us acknowledge that most often gaining a testimony is not a task of a minute, an hour, or a day. It is not once and done. The process of gathering spiritual light is the quest of a lifetime.”
2. Line Upon Line
Quote 13: “Our spiritual journey is the process of a lifetime. We do not know everything in the beginning or even along the way. Our conversion comes step-by-step, line upon line. We first build a foundation of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We treasure the principles and ordinances of repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. We include a continuing commitment to prayer, a willingness to be obedient, and an ongoing witness of the Book of Mormon. (The Book of Mormon is powerful spiritual nourishment.) We then remain steady and patient as we progress through mortality.” (2008 Neil L. Andersen)
- Build off what you do know. I’ll go back to Elder Christensen’s quote earlier about the Book of Mormon. He found a starting point. Once he believed in the truth of the book, he could accept Joseph Smith as a prophet and other principles followed. We are the same way. Find a starting point that you can ALWAYS fall back on. And then use it as a foundation to build on.
- Occasionally take a look back. Sometimes the progress is so slow you don’t realize how far you’ve come. Sometimes taking a look back reminds us of truths that may have once burned so brightly and simply remembering them can re-stir that fire. That’s why testimony meetings are so important. Sharing our experiences makes them fresh in our minds and helps solidify things we have already learned.
- Keep a journal of how you see God's hand in your life daily. Helps you recognize and appreciate that much more.
Support One Another
Don’t answer this question, but ask yourself. Have you ever had a thought go through your mind something along the lines of “I can’t believe so-and-so was wearing that when I ran in to her at Target. It’s obvious she wasn’t wearing her garments.” Or maybe “I always do my visiting teaching and she NEVER does hers. I am doing so much better than she is.”
We’ve talked before about how it seems like human nature (or women’s nature?) to compare ourselves. This is such a dangerous trap, especially when it comes to testimony, and Pres. Uchtdorf is very careful to call that out.
Quote 14: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a place for people with all kinds of testimonies. There are some members of the Church whose testimony is sure and burns brightly within them. Others are still striving to know for themselves. The Church is a home for all to come together,regardless of the depth or the height of our testimony. I know of no sign on the doors of our meetinghouses that says, “Your testimony must be this tall to enter.””
This was one of my favorite quotes from last conference. What does it mean to you?
- ENCOURAGE one another!
- See yourself with blinders. Not to be selfish, but to look at your testimony compared to your testimony, not compared to those around you.
We have been given so many beautiful promises of things that will come from our faith. Elder Uchtdorf closes as only he can do:
“It is my testimony that this spiritual light is within the reach of every child of God. It will enlighten your mind and bring healing to your heart and joy to your days. My dear friends, please do not delay the moment to seek and strengthen your own personal testimony of God’s divine work, even the work of light and truth. Your personal testimony of light and truth will not only bless you and your posterity here in mortality, but it will also accompany you throughout all eternity, among worlds without end.”