Keep Your Testimony Burning Bright

Susan L. Warner

 

Brigham Young UniversityIdaho Devotional

April 2, 2002

 

 

My brothers and sisters, My husband and I are grateful to be here with President and Sister Bednar, faculty members and especially you students. We love to come to this campus. Over the years we have been privileged to be here several times but the first time was many years ago when Elder Eyring was the president of Ricks College. I remember the wind whipping through my hair and around my legs as we toured the campus. The wind is still here, that hasn't changed. And there is something else that has not changed. Even though the student body has grown, the campus has experienced remarkable expansion and even the name is different, the warm, welcoming, and uplifting Spirit that permeates this university is still here. We are delighted to feel it once again.

A few weeks ago while I was in Southern California visiting our daughter and her family, I was picked up at their home by an airport van. Usually there are several passengers traveling, but on this day I was alone with the driver for an hour and a half as we drove up the beautiful California coast. The driver was friendly and asked where I was going. I explained I was going to meet my husband who was speaking at a conference for religious educators.

The driver seemed interested so I asked him if he had ever heard of the Mormon Church. I have to admit that my heart started beating a little faster as I thought about being a missionary and sharing my testimony. The driver explained that he didn't really know much about Mormons except that his older sister had married a man who professed to be one, but now they were divorced. I gulped, hoping this would not be "strike one!" I learned that the driver had grown up in Peru in a Catholic family, but now he attended the Presbyterian Church with his wife. He acknowledged that he really didn't know much about any religion.

I explained that in the Mormon Church there were religion classes for college-age people to help them understand our doctrine and I added that my husband taught such classes at a university. And on this very day we would be attending a conference for such teachers in Southern California.

He finally asked the question I was hoping he would ask. "What do Mormons believe?"

I ask you my friends. . .What would you have answered?

I knew the driver wasn't looking for a long explanation of doctrine--my response needed to be short and yet meaningful.

I remembered that as a young Primary girl I had used the fingers on my hand to remind me of the things I wanted to say when I bore my testimony. Five simple things that would be easy to understand and would explain what I believed. As we rode along in the van I looked down at my fingers in my lap to help me remember.

1. We believe that God is our Father in Heaven and He loves us.

As I answered the driver's sincere question by sharing those five truths, I felt that warm confirming feeling of the Holy Ghost whisper, "It is true, it is true."

I could tell that the driver sensed how strongly I believed what I shared, because he asked, "Do all Mormons believe as you do?"

I struggled to answer his question because in my mind I saw many people who are dear to me, who once believed those truths but who have let the light of their testimony die. I thought of my college roommate who many years ago was baptized and received the gift of the Holy Ghost when we were living together in the dorm. But recently I learned that she has drifted into inactivity and lost the light she once enjoyed. I even know returned missionaries who once were filled with the Holy Ghost and with conviction bore their testimony every day for 2 years. But after returning home they neglected to nourish that precious testimony. And what inevitably follows? Little by little, the light that once illuminated their souls has grown dim.

President Harold B. Lee said it this way. "Testimony isn't something that you have today and you keep always. Testimony is either going to grow and grow to the brightness of certainty, or it is going to diminish to nothingness, depending on what we do about it." He also said, "Testimony is as elusive as a moonbeam; it's as fragile as an orchid; you have to recapture it every morning of your life."

After much thought and prayer, I have felt impressed that keeping our testimony alive is what I would like to speak with you about today. I pray that Holy Ghost will be with me and with you as we explore together how we might "recapture [our testimony] every morning of our life" and keep its light burning brightly.

A little over a month ago we finished the 2002 Olympic Season. I imagine that many of you followed the exciting events as I did. Over and over we heard --"Light the Fire Within," which was the Olympic theme. As the Olympic flame was carried across our country, again and again those dramatic words were repeated "Light the Fire Within." Even our 7 year-old grandson wanted to make Olympic gold medal cookies for his birthday treat for his school class and he wanted me, his Grandma, to write in frosting on each cookie, "Light the Fire Within." I thought about those words as we wrote them together.

There is a fire that has already been lit in each one of us who believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the fire of testimony. The Olympic flame is extinguished at the end of the bi-annual games and is not rekindled for two years. But we cannot put the light of testimony away even for a moment. For Satan never sleeps or takes a vacation. He is relentless. The subtle but alluring temptations of the Adversary are always present, especially at this crucial time in your life. He desires to overcome us with darkness and sin. He will do everything in his power to weaken our testimony. He works ferociously to make truths seem like error and wrongs feel right because as we read in 2 Nephi 2: 27 . . "he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself."

This, my university friends, is not an abstract concept. It is personal to each of us. We all know someone, male or female, young or old, who has once been on fire with the gospel, never suspecting that the light could dim or be snuffed out, and yet sadly, they have succumbed to Satan's enticements and little by little the light has diminished.

My dear brothers and sisters, how is it that someone can at one time know the gospel is true with conviction and certainty and then later lose that light?

Just as the fingers on one hand reminded me of the testimony I wanted to share, we can use our other hand to remember five simple things we might do to keep that testimony alive and growing. This hand will represent our testimony and this hand will represent what we can do to keep it shining brightly. Without a doubt, two hands will be better than one.

When I told the driver that God is our loving Heavenly Father, I explained what is expressed by our prophets in the Proclamation to the World: that "each of us is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents."

How can we nourish that understanding of who we really are?

May I suggest that we consistently pray to Him with gratitude. When we pray to our Father with a heart filled with gratitude, we feel more deeply our love for Him. We acknowledge that He is near, that we are His children and that we need His help. When we pray and really talk to Him with perfect honesty and sincere gratitude, we can feel His love for us and we remember our paternal connection to Him. He is our Father. He loves us. It is no wonder that boys and girls, men and women, members and non-members, all over the world are drawn to the words "I am a child of God, and He has sent me here." In every language it expresses our divine heritage and reinforces our eternal identity.

As a parent nothing touches me more deeply than to hear my children openly express their love to me along with their sincere expressions of gratitude. We seem to voice those feelings naturally when we are very young. Perhaps that is one of the reasons we are commanded to become little children. Think about your earthly parents. How do they feel when you express your love and gratitude to them? And how do you feel? Grateful expressions between earthly children and their parents strengthen the bonds of love just as prayers to our Heavenly Father strengthen our eternal connection to Him.

When traveling on assignment in Africa I met many of our brothers and sisters who have very little in the way of this world's goods. Some families live in humble one or two room dwellings, eating mainly the food they grow and living a very simple life. But never have I heard more sincere and grateful prayers or met with happier people.

I have a clear memory of a training meeting in Kenya. A member of the Jinja Branch opened the meeting with prayer. He began each sentence by addressing Heavenly Father with the most sincere and simple expressions.

"Father, we thank thee we could all come to this meeting.
Father, we thank thee we are strong enough to walk here.
Father, we thank thee it did not rain so the roads are dry.
Father, we thank thee for sending leaders to teach us.
Father, we thank thee we have fresh water to drink for our bodies and our souls.
Father, we thank thee we have received the truth from thy messengers."

This good brother went on for several minutes with the most sincere and happy expressions of thankfulness. He was not multiplying words but rather his heart was overflowing with gratitude and he joyfully expressed it. And it was clear to everyone present that he knew Heavenly Father was listening.

Many years ago I was challenged to set a timer for 15 minutes and instead of rehearsing all of my problems and requests to Heavenly Father, I was to only express gratitude for specific personal blessings in my life. I was not to ask for anything, but rather to concentrate on thanking Heavenly Father. From my own experience, I can witness to you that such prayers helped me feel closer to my Heavenly Father and gave me a greater assurance of His love for me.

If you have your scriptures will you turn with me to Doctrine & Covenants 10:5.

This counsel was given to the prophet Joseph Smith when the 116 pages of the translated Book of Mormon were lost. Have you ever felt like Joseph must have felt when he knew that he had disappointed the Lord? We each experience times when we feel unworthy of the trust and blessings we have been given. This is when the flame of testimony begins to flicker. In such situations Satan is ready to step right in and take advantage of our discouragement and self doubt. He does not want us to pray and ask for reassurance and help. But the Lord's counsel to Joseph applies to each one of us.

"Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work."

If we want to keep our relationship with Heavenly Father alive and meaningful we can follow the counsel of Amulek ". . . to live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you [us]."

Remember President Lee's words, "Testimony is as elusive as a moonbeam; it's as fragile as an orchid; you have to recapture it every morning of your life." I know of nothing so effective in helping to recapture it as beginning and ending each day with a prayer of gratitude.

The second element of is the knowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer. He himself instructs us to always remember Him and keep His commandments. "And if ye do always remember me" He said, "ye shall have my Spirit to be with you." That Spirit keeps our testimony shining brightly.

President Hinckley has told us that Jesus Christ is the central figure in our theology and our faith. He reminds us, "That, every Latter-day Saint has the responsibility to know for himself or herself with a certainty beyond doubt that Jesus is the resurrected, living Son of the living God."

When we remember that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer, that understanding invites us to repent and partake of the Atonement. We feel hope when we are reminded of His infinite love for us--love so great that he was willing to give His life for us, that we might overcome our weaknesses and sins, feel the sweet peace that comes with forgiveness, and return to His presence. When we remember Him we want to follow His example and keep His commandments. And when we remember Him and what He has done for us we are more easily able to forgive others.

Elder Ballard reminded us last month in the CES fireside that "Our Sacrament Meetings belong to the Savior." This is the sacred time when we renew our baptismal covenant, and witness to our Heavenly Father that we do always remember His son Jesus Christ and keep His commandments.

Do we really think about the promise we are about to make as we listen to the Sacrament Prayer each Sunday? Because it is so familiar to us, it is easy to become distracted and think about the cute girl sitting two rows in front of us or the interesting boy we met at the dance last night or the company that is coming after church.

Have you ever calculated the number of times you have heard the Sacrament prayers? Let's make a rough approximation by subtracting the age you were when you were baptized from your current age. Do you have that number in your mind? Now multiply it by 100 to represent attending church about 50 weeks a year and hearing two prayers each time. If you are 19 years old the number will be about 1,100. When you have heard something over 1,000 times, can you repeat it? I can think of some television commercials that I've heard only a handful of times, but I can't seem to get them out of my head.

I remember a Sunday School lesson given by Elder Dallin Oaks before he was called to be an apostle. He challenged us, his students, to memorize the Sacrament Prayers so that we could repeat the words in our minds each Sunday during the Sacrament service and more fully concentrate on the covenant we were making. Committing the prayers to memory allowed me to silently say the words in my mind. This has helped me ponder how I can more fully remember Him and Keep His commandments.

I believe that when we truly remember Him, we want to keep His commandments and follow His example. May I share with you the connection President Harold B. Lee made between the relationship of keeping the commandments and the light we seek.

". . .if you allow yourself to get into the wrong kind of company, you listen to the wrong kind of stories, you are studying the wrong kind of subjects, you are engaging in sinful practices, there is nothing that will be more deadening as to take away the Spirit of the Lord from you until it will be as though you had walked from a lighted room when you go out of this building, as though you had gone out into a darkness."

Jesus said, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." That light--His light--is the light of our testimony.

The next element of testimony pertains to the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, the restoration of the Gospel and the translation of the Book of Mormon. These truths become more evident and relevant when we regularly study the scriptures.

A Primary song expresses what happens when we earnestly seek to learn from the scriptures. The verse says, "I love to read the Holy Scriptures, and every time I do, I feel the Spirit start to grow within my heart, a testimony that they're true." Another Primary song teaches that 'the Holy Ghost testifies of God and Christ and makes our heart rejoice." We feel their love when we consistently and prayerfully read the scriptures and experience the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost.

Our son Mitchell is serving a mission in England. In a recent letter he recounted that while standing at a bus stop, a man from Africa excitedly approached them. The man said that before moving to England he had met missionaries in Uganda so he recognized their nametags. The missionaries in Uganda had taught him twice before he moved to England. When he saw the familiar nametags on our son and his companion, he blurted out this question. "Do you have the book?" They were not quite certain what he meant. But he explained that the missionaries in Uganda had read to him from a very profound book. He knew the words in the book were true and he wanted to learn more. He was thrilled to receive his own copy of the Book of Mormon. He held the book with tenderness and reverence and promised to read it that very night.

This true seeker from Uganda responded to the Book of Mormon just as the prophet Joseph Smith envisioned many years ago, when he said,

"I pray that the Lord may enable you to treasure these things in your mind, for I know that His Spirit will bear testimony to all who seek diligently after knowledge from Him. I hope you will search the Scriptures. . ."

Our present prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley said, "You may think you are too busy. Ten or fifteen minutes a day with the scriptures, and particularly with the Book of Mormon, can give you marvelous understanding of the great eternal truths which have been preserved by the power of the Almighty for the blessing of His children."

He further said, "I promise you that if you will read the words of that writing which we call scripture, there will come into your heart an understanding and a warmth that will be pleasing to experience. . . . Let the Lord speak for himself to you, and his words will come with a quiet conviction that will make the words of his critics meaningless."

Studying the scriptures every day nourishes our testimony and invites the Spirit into our life.

The fourth element of testimony that I shared with the van driver is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord's true church on the earth. Before we were baptized we were taught the account of Joseph Smith when he was told by the Savior that he should join none of the existing churches. He was instructed to restore the true gospel and establish the Lord's church on the earth. It is my conviction that in order to keep this knowledge of the true church alive, we need to attend our church meetings, participate in the programs, and serve in the kingdom.

I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord's kingdom on the earth. This marvelous organization was established on the principles that the Lord himself laid down when he lived on the earth.

It is through regular attendance at our meetings that we learn how the Lord's true church is organized and carries out its mission. And when we join in, we find companionship and are "nurtured by the good word of God." Through wholehearted participation in church meetings and programs we are taught the principles of the gospel over and over again and our testimonies are strengthened as we practice those principles.

The familiar song says, "No man is an island." It is hard to stand alone. We need the help of one another. And that comes most naturally when we attend church together and serve one another. The accumulation of the experiences we have in a gospel setting deepens our sense of the divine origin and greatness of the Lord's Kingdom on the earth.

I grew up in an area where there were very few members of the church. My brother and I and a handful of others were the only members of the church in our large high school. We had many good friends who did not belong to the Church. We enjoyed participating in school and community activities. But I always remembered the counsel in my patriarchal blessing, which said, "Be wise in choosing your companions. Choose to associate with those who have high ideals and who, with you, will strive to keep the commandments of the Lord."

Though attendance at church is not a sure guarantee, activity in the church does provide an opportunity for us to meet associates who feed our testimony. And when we participate, our testimony can help to strengthen theirs.

You may know that Elder Neal A. Maxwell ran as one of the official Olympic torchbearers. Dressed in the designated white running suit, he carried the lighted torch down North Temple to the Church Administration Building. That evening was very cold and as he rounded the corner the flame of his torch went out. The officials who attended the runners quickly retrieved the little metal box that carried the fire that had been lit in Greece. Immediately the flame was re-ignited and Elder Maxwell lifted the torch and continued his run. Fortunately the Olympic support team was ready and waiting for just such an emergency.

So it is with our brothers and sisters in the Church. Our leaders, home and visiting teachers, quorum members and Relief Society sisters are our extended support group. They too are close by, willing and eager to help us keep our flame of testimony burning. It is not an accident that we have the opportunity every week to come together to worship, sing hymns, renew our covenants, be strengthened and uplifted by the Spirit and serve one another.

In addition to attending our meetings, it is important to accept responsibilities and serve in the Lord's Kingdom. Sometimes we may feel that we are not ready or that we do not have the time to accept assignments. But I want to assure you that there are few, if any, who have ever felt fully prepared and adequate to the responsibility when they accepted a call to serve. But if we humbly accept callings from our priesthood leaders, and seek help from the Lord through earnest prayer, and then give our very best efforts to fulfill our assignments, we will feel the Spirit support us, magnify us and fill our hearts with an awareness of the Lord's love and appreciation for our trying.

President Hinckley said, "(We) will not grow strong in the faith without exercise. Faith and testimony are like the muscles of my arm. If I use those muscles and nourish them, they grow stronger. If I put my arm in a sling and leave it there, it becomes weak and ineffective." And so it is with testimonies. Serving in the Lord's kingdom strengthens our spiritual muscles.

The last part of my testimony that I shared with my driver friend, was my witness that this church is led by a prophet of God who receives revelation for all of God's children.

This testimony is kept alive by simply following the living prophet.

In one of our favorites hymns we sing, "We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet, to guide us in these latter days." I am thankful for a latter-day prophet who seeks to know the will of the Lord, and when he receives that knowledge he shares it with us. I appreciate a living prophet who is not afraid to give us guidance and instruct us to correct our course. I believe the words of the Savior found in D &C 21:4-6. Speaking of the prophet, he commanded us:

. . .thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;

For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.

For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. .

If the Savior himself asked us to avoid tattoos, and wearing more than one pair of earrings, would we listen and obey? The Lord has told us that the words of his living prophet are as if from his own mouth.

Last year Primary children around the world practiced a song about prophets. You may have heard the last verse:

"Now we have a world where people are confused.
If you don't believe it, go and watch the news.
We can get direction all along our way,
If we heed the prophets--follow what they say."

When we heed the living prophet and follow what he says, our testimony of his divine direction is strengthened and we know that he is the servant the Lord himself has appointed to lead us.

I grew up in Southern California. Our family lived about an hour from the Pacific Ocean. I love the beach. I loved swimming in the ocean and riding the waves. I have happy memories of running over the hot sand, dodging umbrellas tilted to shade the sun, and jumping across outstretched beach towels as we hurried from the car to the water. We could hardly wait to get to the firm wet sand that had been wiped smooth by the foaming waves. We eagerly anticipated splashing through the shallow ripples and then diving into the cold dark water. But always as we ran-we looked up at the tall white wood tower where the life guard sat as the watchman.

The lifeguard had a chair shaded by an umbrella, on the top of the stand. From that vantage point and with his experience, the lifeguard could assess the condition of the sea. It was his responsibility to warn swimmers about the safety of the ocean. He did this by hoisting a flag. If the flag at the top of the pole was blue, we knew that the water was safe for swimming, but if the flag was red, we knew that there was a dangerous under tow or rip tide and the ocean was not safe for swimmers.

My parents told us many stories of people who had been drowned in a rip tide or undertow and they impressed upon us the foolishness of ignoring the lifeguard's caution. When we got older we often went to the beach with our friends, our parents were not there. They had taught us to follow the caution of the lifeguard. But the lifeguard was not a policeman. He was not there to enforce a law--he was only there to warn us. We were free to heed the warning or ignore it.

So it is with our prophet. President Gordon B. Hinckley is the watchman on the tower. But unlike the lifeguard at the beach--our prophet does not rely on his own wisdom to give us direction and warning. He receives revelation from the Lord and he passes that information on to us. He warns us of the dangerous currents and deadly tides yet we are free to heed his counsel or foolishly ignore it. Every summer when I was young we heard of someone who lost their life because they failed to heed the lifeguard's warning. I know we jeopardize our spiritual life and threaten our testimony if we fail to follow our watchman, the living prophet.

In college I had a friend who didn't know anything about our church. I told her there was a prophet on the earth who received revelation for his people. She quizzically said, "Oh really?" And then without hesitating she asked, "What has he told you?" I was caught off guard. But I vowed right then that I would learn what our prophet has told us. This is how I would answer her today.

He has told us to get out of debt.
He has urged us to pay an honest tithing.
He has encouraged us to seek education.
He has pled with us to reach out in love and kindness to all people.
He has asked us to be honest in all our dealings.

In just a few days we will be privileged to listen to our prophet in general gonference. I urge you to be in a place where you can hear his words and the words of our leaders. And then when their messages are printed in the Ensign, study them again and pray for the confirming witness of the Spirit so that you will know of their truthfulness. I can promise that if you will listen to their counsel and earnestly follow it, your testimony of their divine calling will be strengthened.

As students this is an exciting time in your life. It is one of the best times and one of the hardest. You are reading and listening, learning, trying out theories and testing. It must also be a time for faith and believing.

Let's review what we believe-- will you test yourself?

Recently our son who is serving as a Bishop received a late night call requesting that he visit a man who was in deep trouble. The man had recently made some serious errors in judgment that had precipitated trouble with the law and now he was in the hospital seeking help. Though our son had known the man for sometime, he had not seen him for several months. When our son approached the hospital bed he saw a man whose countenance had changed. He had lost the light he once enjoyed. As they talked together our son asked, "When you made the choices that have caused you to be in this sad situation were you praying each day? "No," he sadly answered. "When did you last read your scriptures?" With downcast eyes he said, "I guess I haven't read them in over a year." "Have you been attending church?" "No, I have been much too busy."

My dear brothers and sisters, can we be too busy to do the things that will keep our testimony alive and well? You may think that your college days are more than filled with significant papers to write, critical tests to pass, jobs to do, people to meet and places to go. But there will never be a time in your life when it is more crucial to nurture your testimony. For it is your testimony that will light your path back to Heavenly Father. It is one of the very few things that we will take with us when we leave this earth. It is not our college diploma, not our dating record, not our wardrobe or our 20 inch biceps, but rather the precious knowledge we have kept alive by praying each day, renewing our covenants, keeping the commandments, studying the scriptures, attending our meetings and serving in the kingdom.

When you are waiting for class to begin or you are walking home or just sitting in the library, look down at your hands, use your fingers to take a personal inventory. On one hand think about your testimony, and on the other, think about what you are doing right now to keep it vital and alive.

I recognize that many who need encouragement probably are not here today. Perhaps you have a roommate, or a sister or a brother or a cousin who has started to drift away from the light. Sometimes we feel helpless when see others making choices that will lead them away from the testimony they once had. Your example is probably the most important help you can give. But will you do one more thing? Will you ask your Heavenly Father to help you find a way to bear your witness to them? For when you do, the Holy Ghost will cause the light to burn more brightly in you and perhaps you can help to rekindle the light in their heart. It may be a phone call expressing your love for them and assuring them that Heavenly knows and loves them too. Or maybe you will feel prompted to invite them to go with you to an event or place where the Spirit of the Lord will be invited.

I probably am not as creative as you are and I know I am not as creative as the Holy Ghost. He can guide you and prompt you to know how to reach out to someone who needs your help. We can be His emissaries of light if we are willing to seek his direction and courageous enough to follow it. Someday you may find yourself riding along with someone who wants to know what you believe. I have sent more material to the van driver but I do not know the end of his story. But this I do know. Whenever we share our testimony and bear our witness of the Savior, the light within us shines brighter than before.

I bear my witness to you that Heavenly Father lives, that Jesus is the Christ. He stands at the head of this church, and He is our Savior and Redeemer. I know that through the Prophet Joseph Smith the gospel was restored and the Book of Mormon was translated. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord's church on the earth and we are privileged to be members. I know that we are led by a prophet today who receives revelation from God. I know President Gordon B. Hinckley loves you, the Savior loves you and your Heavenly Father loves you, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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