Sunday, February 28, 2016

Spiritual Sunday: Developing Faith in Jesus Christ and a Testimony of Him.

We had ward conference today and I was asked to speak. Here is the talk that I gave.

A few years ago my husband and I purchased a home with a wonderful garden plot. We made big plans about our garden, envisioning baskets full of delicious vegetables. Near mid-summer, our enthusiasm dwindled; we neglected our garden and harvested a small crop of vegetables. Our second year was even worse. This was frustrating, but we had not put in the effort to receive the reward and blessing of a bounteous garden.

Developing faith in and growing a testimony of Jesus Christ is much like gardening. It is a dynamic process requiring effort, diligence, time, and patience. When one is wholly engaged in developing faith in and a testimony of Jesus Christ, the fruits are bounteous and rich. Half-hearted approaches yield a half-hearted faith and testimony. Neglect is the most damaging of all and can lead to a shriveled and fragile testimony.

In order for my family to cultivate a successful and thriving garden we needed to do the following: cultivate healthy soil, plant seeds in a sunny area, maintain proper moisture, protect the garden, and weed fanatically.  I think this applies so well to building faith and testimony.  In order to cultivate strong faith and a thriving testimony of Jesus Christ, we need to have a healthy foundation, feed our testimony, protect our testimony, and weed out sin and doubt.

In gardening you need to start with good soil to grow good plants. You can test your soil to understand the acidity and alkaline levels.  By tilling the ground, mixing in fertilizer, and adding certain nutrients, you can put your soil back into balance. How does one get good soil for one’s testimony and faith? I love Alma chapter 5 because the prophet, Alma, asks a series of penetrating and discerning questions about one’s spiritual foundation. Answering Alma’s questions will give you the answers on how you need to tweak your foundation.

Once you have cultivated good soil, you plant seeds. Seeds need sun and water in careful doses to thrive. I believe that consistent scripture study and prayer are as essential to our testimonies as sun and water are to plants. I invite you to try an experiment. Does your faith in Christ feel a little anemic? Go to the Book of Mormon and start marking every reference to Jesus Christ. As you do so, ponder and pray about what the Book of Mormon teaches about the character and message of Jesus Christ. I know your faith will perk up just as thirsty plants do after they have been watered. The best way to maintain faith is to read and pray a little every day.

It isn’t enough to provide sun and water for your garden, you must protect it from pests that can attack and destroy fragile plants. Insects must be managed carefully.  We build high fences to protect our gardens from hungry deer. Likewise, we must protect our faith and testimonies from pests that would destroy us. We can set up barriers to protect our faith, like avoiding inappropriate media content. We can choose to avoid debates with others and instead share testimonies and love. We can also ask for protection and strength. When we make covenants at baptism and in the temple, we are promised blessings of protection as we are obedient to those covenants. Attending the temple regularly and partaking of the Sacrament weekly helps us remember and renew our covenants, giving us constant protection throughout our lives.

Weeds are the bane of my existence, and I suspect, almost every gardener. If you aren’t diligent about removing weeds, they can quickly overrun a garden. When a garden is overrun by weeds, you have to take drastic measures to undo the damage. Similarly, we must consistently weed out the problems that threaten to overwhelm our testimonies. Sin can quickly overrun a testimony because it becomes harder and harder to feel the Spirit and the love of Heavenly Father. It is much easier to weed sin out consistently than let it take root. Sometimes, we do let little sins take root and they grow and deepen. In our garden, we found one particular type of weed to be quite obnoxious. When small, you could uproot it. But when it grew big, it was almost impossible to remove without serious help from a good sharp shovel. Sometimes there are sins in our lives that are simply too big to uproot without help. This is where our Bishop comes in. He will help you uproot those deep sins which are threatening to overcome your testimony. Another pernicious weed that threatens our testimonies is doubt. We all have doubts at one time or another.  We can’t allow those doubts to grow—we mustn’t cultivate our doubts at the expense of our testimonies. The only way I know to really address doubt is to take it to Heavenly Father, to plead earnestly for help in prayer and to search the scriptures with diligence and care.

The biggest lesson I have learned about my gardening failures is that growing a garden requires consistent good habits. This is also true for growing our faith and testimonies. We need to cultivate the habit of growing our faith and testimony through keeping a strong and balanced foundation, feeding our testimonies with scripture study and prayer, protecting our testimonies from pests and attacks, and constantly weeding sin and doubt from our hearts.  

The whole purpose of gardening is to produce food that will nourish and sustain our bodies. We need that nourishment and sustenance for strength to live, thrive, and sometimes, to simply endure.  We need faith and a testimony of Jesus Christ to nourish and sustain our souls.

Matthew recounts a story in Matthew 14. After feeding a large multitude with just a bit of bread and fish, the Savior sends his apostles on a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee, while he spent some time praying.  In the evening, strong winds came, tossing the ship with great waves. “And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. “ The disciples were scared but Jesus Christ called out to them. Peter, impetuous and wonderful Peter, says, “And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.  And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”  Peter walked on water, in the middle of the crashing waves and fierce wind, when he focused on the Savior. He sank when he began allowed doubt and fear to overtake him.

The truth is that every single one of you sitting in this chapel today will face challenges, storms, loss, pain, sorrow, and grief of the highest magnitude. Strong faith in Jesus Christ and a testimony of Him will allow us to walk through the storms of life with hope, courage, and even joy.

I testify that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. I testify that God loves us and is watching over us. 


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