Developing faith in God

Posted June 26, 2011

The following is a talk I recently gave at the local LDS church I attend. Our church doesn’t have paid ministry meaning everyone who attends occasionally takes their turn preaching and exhorting.

I’d like to share today some things that I’ve learned about developing faith.

When I arrived on my mission, I thought I understood faith much better than I did. I was soon humbled to learn, as I tried to teach people, that no, I really didn’t know much about faith. Now properly contrite, I began my study of faith.

I think my favorite definition of faith in God is to have confidence that the Lord will do what He says He’ll do. But while this sounds simple, in practice it’s quite difficult. To fully have faith in the Lord, it’s not enough to believe in the Lord, we must actually understand what He will do in different situations.

This is why, I think, there’s such a strong connection between studying the gospel, personal revelation, and faith. Because the more we learn about the gospel, the better we understand what God will do and the more we can rely up on Him. The less we understand about the Lord and His gospel the harder it is to have confidence in the Lord because we won’t know what He says He will do and when He does do something, we are completely befuddled as to why He did what He did.

So to me, confidence or faith in the Lord comes from knowing Him and understanding what He does and why He does what He does.

It’s like having a really good friend who you’ve known forever. You know each other so well that you know how they’ll act when they’re happy, sad, disappointed, hurt, etc. Whatever the situation, you can pretty well predict how they’ll act. And you’ve also learned you can rely on them to comfort you when sad, to listen to a story when something good happens happen, to give good council when you have a problem.

Developing faith in the Lord is much the same. As we get to know the Lord, understand His character, like that friend, we will soon be able to predict how the Lord will act given a certain situation. And the better we know the Lord, the better we will be able to predict what He will do and the more we can rely on Him. So in other words, understanding the Lord and having faith in the Lord is one and the same.

But for this to happen, we need to have personal experiences with the Lord. If a friend wants to introduce you to another friend and raves about how cool they are and how much you’ll like them, you’ll trust their opinion but only so much. You need to meet this new person yourself before you’ll fully believe that they are as cool as your friend says.

This is why I think that’s why scripture study and personal revelation are so important. Because without those things, we cannot understand God or why He does what He does. And without that understanding we cannot place full confidence in Him.

And not having that understanding can cause a lot of problems. I think a lot of the difficulties we face in life, particularly ones that challenge our faith, are the result of ignorance or misunderstandings about God.

For example, a trap I often fall into is I ask for blessings that the Lord doesn’t want to give me. I will pray with great sincerity for long periods of time and when the Lord finally convinces me the answer is no, I’m bitterly disappointed. If I’d understood better what the Lord wants to give me before I tried asking then I wouldn’t of been disappointed, or even surprised for that matter, when the Lord said no. I used to wander at how the Lord could promise certain prophets in the scriptures that whatever they asked for would be given them. I don’t wander anymore because now it’s clear. The Lord could give them this power because He knew that these prophets understood Him and His plan so well that they would only ask for things He already intended to give them.

So all of us struggle at times with our faith in the Lord. How do we develop stronger faith in the Lord? I think the most straightforward answer to that question is simply, learn more about Him. Learn of His character. Learn of His promises. And learn about how and when He delivers on those promises.

Of course, doing this is easier said then done. I think this is the principle challenge of our life, learning about God and molding our lives after His.

I testify that the Lord cares very much that we understand Him correctly and He has given us many aids to learn of Him and He places experiences in our lives which, if we let them, will help us understand who He is and why He does what He does.

Now I want to share a few experiences where by learning more about the Lord, my faith was strengthened.

After spending the first part of my mission in the big city in Manila, I was transferred to a very rural farming area in Alfonso, Cavite, the province just south of Manila. After one transfer with my first companion there, I got a new companion and for the first time became a senior companion. And to be honest, I was kinda terrified. I didn’t have a lot of confidence yet in my Tagalog or in my abilities as a missionary but I really wanted to do a good job. And I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to measure up. Shortly after becoming a senior companion, I read a scripture which changed my mission and my life. It’s in Doctrine and Covenants section 6 verse 34 and 36. They read:

34 Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.

36 Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.

The effect of those scriptures on me was enormous. I realized much more clearly that I was on the Lord’s errand doing His will. And as long as I looked to the Lord in every thought and doubted not and feared not, He would guide, protect, and strengthen me enough to fulfill my duties as a missionary. After I read this, as we went around to our various appointments and some fear would come over me, I would repeat in my head over and over as a mantra of sorts, ”look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not”, and my fears would melt away.

My next experience was more recent. There was something I very much desired and wanted to pray to the Lord for His help in getting it. But for various reasons at the time I felt unworthy to ask, my imperfections and weaknesses seemed to be looming over me stronger than normal. About that time I read this from Ether chapter 3 in the Book of Mormon.

2 Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou has given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we many receive according to our desires.

As the brother of Jared, I felt unworthy and somewhat evil at the time. But this scripture helped me realize that however unworthy I felt, I was compounding the problem by not praying for my desire. I realized that we don’t have to be perfect to be blessed by the Lord. I realized that no matter how unworthy or evil we think we are, the Lord still wants us to call on him. Because I understood this, my faith grew stronger that the Lord would bless me with the things I asked.

My last experience happened when I was suffering through a very difficult period of my life. There’s a story in the Book of Mormon I’ve always loved about the people led by Alma the Senior that broke away from King Noah and his people and established a new community. Soon however disaster struck and they were conquered and enslaved by a Lamenite army. I’ve always marveled at how well they stood up under this rather extreme trial. In Mosiah 24:15 we read:

15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.

I wandered how they were able to do that, ”submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” as I most certainly was not feeling the least bit cheerful and patient at the time. Were they some sort of super-spiritual humans that could perform great feats of self-control that I could never hope to?

But then the Spirit gently told me I was misreading the story. He directed my attention again to the previous verse.

14 And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage.

It wasn’t that these people were so special (though they were) that they were able to bear this trial with cheerfulness and patience, it was because the Lord blessed them that their burdens became light. The Spirit also directed me to Doctrine and Covenants 30:1.

1 Behold, I say unto you, David, that you have feared man and have not relied on me for strength as you ought.

I felt this chastisement also applied to me. I thought I had to endure the trouble I was facing by myself and was not relying on the Lord for strength as I ought. Humbled, I prayed that the Lord would strengthen me. From then on through the end of the experience, when the trouble threatened to overwhelm me, I would stop and pray, ”Lord, I can’t do this by myself, please help me”, and soon, I found that my burdens too became much easier to bear.

I testify that the Lord does exist. That He does love us. That He is merciful and kind and just. And that He can and will fulfill every promise He has made. And that as we learn of Him, learn of His will for us, and align our lives with His will, our confidence in Him will wax strong and we will be richly blessed all of our days.

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Kyle's profile picKyle Mathews lives and works in Seattle building useful things. You should follow him on Twitter. Currently exploring what's next and open to consulting.