Protect and Nourish Your Testimony
I’ve actually written out my entire talk so that I can hopefully control my emotions somewhat better. You’re going to get the full load. President Richards and others on the stand, faculty and staff, and most importantly, you students who have chosen to be here of your own free will and choice—your numbers intimidate me, but I am honored by your support. I have prayed often—stop, Finlinson, don’t get started so early—I have prayed often, since being asked to speak today, and I plead for your silent prayers that I may somehow communicate the many thoughts and feelings I have received as I have prepared. Please forgive me for using the many personal instances that I will cite today. I think most of my experiences are similar to those you have had or may yet have in your lives. I would like first to read to you a couple of lines from my patriarchal blessing to introduce the topic of my address this morning.
I quote as follows: “For the Lord has planted in your tender heart a testimony which shall abide with you to your last day on earth. Nourish that testimony. Feed it, and care for it, as you would a tender flower.” I believe those lines could be in everyone’s blessing, and I take your attendance here as evidence that we all have a growing testimony of eternal matters, especially our relationship with our Father in Heaven. That testimony rests on the sure foundation established by the Holy Ghost whispering to our hearts. Hence, I would like to use the remainder of my time talking about how we might protect our testimony and help it grow as we would a tender flower.
President Gordon B. Hinckley in a conference talk said the following, and I quote: “This witness, this testimony, can be the most precious of all the gifts of God. It is a heavenly bestowal when there is the right effort. It is the opportunity, it is the responsibility of every man and woman in this Church to obtain within himself or herself a conviction of the truth of this great latter-day work and of those who stand at its head, even the living God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (“Testimony,” April 1998 General Conference, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1998/04/testimony?lang=eng)
On another occasion, President Hinckley said again, “In your hearts, you carry a testimony of the truth of this work. It is a gift of God which has come to you by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is more precious than all else. It puts you in a position of loneliness, but you have no choice but to go forward and live the gospel. Live the Word of Wisdom. Pay your tithes and offerings. Be faithful and true. Go to the temple. And you young men and women, there comes upon you the responsibility, inescapable, under which you must live up to the knowledge you carry in your hearts.”
I would now like to read a quote from Elder Howard W. Hunter that furthers this theme: “Action is one of the chief foundations of personal testimony. The surest witness is that which comes firsthand out of personal experience. When the Jews challenged the doctrine Jesus taught in the temple, he answered, ‘…my doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.’ Then he added the key to personal testimony, ‘If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.’ (John 7:16-17)”
Continuing to quote: “Merely saying, accepting, [and] believing are not enough. They are incomplete until that which they imply is translated into the dynamic action of daily living. This, then, is the finest source of personal testimony. One knows because he has experienced. He does not have to say, ‘Brother Jones says it’s true, and I believe him.’ He can say, ‘I have lived this principle in my own life, and I know through personal experience that it works. I have felt its influence, tested its practical usefulness, and know that it is good. I can testify of my own knowledge that it is a true principle.” (“Gospel Imperatives,” Conference Report, April 1967, pp. 115-118, http://scriptures.byu.edu/gettalk.php?ID=1556)
I am convinced the manner in which we can protect our testimonies through nourishing, feeding and caring must be accomplished by our dynamic daily living. Hence, let me suggest some ideas that have worked for me and others in the past.
First, we need to be in the Scriptures daily. A tender flower needs daily watering to grow. The Holy Ghost and our testimonies need us to read scriptures daily. I recognize that our modern times are busy and that time seems to come as a premium to all of us. Developing the habit of daily scripture study is difficult for some of us to establish. Most good habits are. Permit me to read an Old Testament story that has helped me. It is found in 2 Kings 5, pretty much.
“And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee that thou mayest recover him from his [spiritual] leprosy.
“And it came to pass, [that] when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes and said, Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his [spiritual] leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me.
“And it was so, when Elisha, the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.
“So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha.
“And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and [study thy scriptures daily, even the Book of Mormon, and thy testimony] shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be [converted].
“But Naaman was wroth, and [he] went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the [spiritual] leper….
“And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had [asked thee to serve as the stake president or on the high council or as the bishop or as the Elders quorum president or as the gospel doctrine teacher or some other] “great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, [Study your scriptures daily, and be protected?]”
“Then [he] went…[and began his daily scripture study], according to the saying of the man of God; and his [testimony grew as a tender flower].” (See 2 Kings 5:6-14)
I am convinced that daily scripture study will help you nourish, feed, care for and protect your testimony. I know beyond doubt that your day will go better when you read your scriptures that day, if only one chapter. I know with time, you will be able to easily distinguish the days you have not read your scriptures. I know that when you read your scriptures daily there will come thoughts and scriptures to your mind throughout the day in your various activities, often for the benefit of someone else. I know that as you read your scriptures daily, your desire to be obedient and eschew evil will be enhanced.
Secondly, an obvious help in this protecting process is the use of personal prayers. Now in my mind, there are a couple of different types of personal prayers. First, there are the prayers concerning our own individual needs and wants. Think of those prayers of desperation when you’re about ready to kill your roommate, or maybe later in life, a teenage son or daughter. Think of those prayers when you feel lost in a school subject or a work project. Think of those prayers when you are considering entering a new phase of your life, and you’re concerned about how you will adapt and what others will think about you.
Think of the prayers of relief when you are feeling ill or feeling down. Think of those prayers when you want to know or understand the truths of the gospel. These prayers find their genesis in our desire to have faith in and communicate with a loving Father in Heaven, who will answer all our prayers according to His will and desires for us.
A different type of prayer might be described as the “Let me be an instrument” prayer, wherein our focus is on others and their needs and wants. Think of praying for struggling family members. Think of praying for members of your ward or neighborhood. Think of praying for instructors and classmates at the beginning of each class period. Think of praying for close friends who may have lost a loved one. Think of praying for civic and Church leaders who have directing and guiding responsibilities for many others. Whatever type of prayers we might utter, if we do so sincerely, respectfully, simply, honestly, and often, our relationship with a kind Father in Heaven will bloom as the flower of testimony, for He will bless us with a multitude of opportunities to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost for the blessings of our own lives and the lives of many others. Following the promptings of the Holy Ghost brings eternal joy.
Let me move to a third process for protecting and caring for testimony. I love music. I come by my love of music rather genetically; my grandfather Finlinson sang in the ward choir in Oak City, Utah, for more than 50 consecutive years. One time the townsfolk challenged him to sing for two straight hours without repeating a song. He did so, and was rewarded with the grand prize of a gunnysack of unshelled peanuts, a favorite snack of his. Music has been an uplifting part of my life for as long as I can remember. My father played music on the phonograph or radio almost on a daily basis.
I have listened to the music of the Church, the music of the ’30s, the ’40s, the ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s—and there is still some great music being produced now. In fact, I want to agree with this quote from Brigham Young: “There is no music in hell, for all good music belongs to heaven.”
For further proper perspective, let me read this quote from Elder Bruce R. McConkie: “Music is part of the language of the Gods. It has been given to man so he can sing praises to the Lord. It is a means of expressing, with poetic words and in melodious tunes, the deep feelings of rejoicing and thanksgiving found in the hearts of those who have testimonies of the divine Sonship and who know of the wonders and glories wrought for them by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Music is both in the voice and in the heart. Every true saint finds his heart full of songs of praise to his Maker. Those whose voices can sing … the praises found in their hearts are twice blest. ‘Be filled with the Spirit,’ Paul counseled, ‘Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.’ (Eph 5:18-19)” (The Promised Messiah, p. 553.)
One of my favorite times of service in the Church was the three years I served as the Primary chorister in my ward. I used to thrill to see the tears form in the eyes of those young Primary children as they would sing phrases like:
I know my Father lives and loves me too.
The Spirit whispers this to me and tells me it is true.
(Reid N. Nibley, Children’s Songbook, p. 5)
And again, when they would sing:
I feel my Savior’s love
In all the world around me.
His Spirit warms my soul
Through ev’rything I see.
(Ralph Rodgers Jr., K. Newell Dayley, and Laurie Huffman, Children’s Songbook, p. 74)
Please surround your testimony with uplifting music. There is so much of it in the Christian world today. We have choirs, like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and there are dozens if not hundreds of accomplished performers producing musical renditions that will soothe the soul and bring peace to your heart. I would ask Sister Cathy to play a little piece for you. It’s a little long, but I want to dedicate it to next Wednesday, and I’ll sit down. Just think of the words. [Pianist plays renditions of “America, the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.”]
That kind of music brings peace to my heart.
Sometimes, when a piece of music gets into your mind, it just kind of stays there, and you find yourself humming it over and over again. That aspect of music can be both good and bad, so when we speak of music, we should also be somewhat cautious. Some of you know that I have held a karaoke party at the end of each school year for my second-year accounting students. I have the CDs that we use for this purpose, and I pass out a list of all the songs on the CDs, in order that students may choose a song to sing. A couple of years ago, I purchased a new CD and a disk of more contemporary songs. I didn’t know the songs myself, but I recognized the singers as more current. After I passed out the list of songs, a couple of students talked to me after class to explain that the lyrics to two of the songs were probably totally inappropriate for LDS Business College. I was embarrassed.
Allow me to read a quote from Elder Boyd K. Packer: “In our day music itself has been corrupted. Music can, by its tempo, by its beat, by its intensity, dull the spiritual sensitivity of men….
“Young people, you cannot afford to fill your mind with the unworthy hard music of our day. It is not harmless. It can welcome onto the stage of your mind unworthy thoughts and set the tempo to which they dance and to which you may act.
“You degrade yourself when you identify with all of those things which seem now to surround the extremes of music: the shabbiness, the irreverence, the immorality, and the addictions. Such music as that is not worthy of you.…
“…[God] has inspired a world full of wonderful things to learn and to do, uplifting music of many kinds that you may enjoy.” (“Inspiring Music—Worthy Thoughts,” Ensign, Jan. 1974, http://www.lds.org/ensign/1974/01/inspiring-music-worthy-thoughts?lang=eng)
Indeed, music can provide the greenhouse protection for your testimony flower.
A fourth aspect of nurturing, feeding, caring for, and protecting a testimony would relate to the physical body, which houses our testimony. It appears to me that our testimony is housed in the area that extends from our shoulders down to just below our knees. I base that opinion on the fact that when a member of the Church goes to the temple to receive their own endowment, they receive the garment of the holy priesthood, which more or less covers that same area. Hence, protecting our testimonies would include covering that area of our bodies with appropriate clothing.
I’ve used the word “appropriate” in a deliberate sense. There is available a myriad of choices of clothing that a person could buy and wear, but not all the choices may be appropriate. For example, in the Olympics this summer, there will be people running the hundred-meter race. Sprinters. However, I doubt that any of the competitors will be wearing a snowmobile suit during the race. Nor will any of the gymnasts be wearing ski parkas and ski boots. Such clothing would not be appropriate for these athletes in this setting. Let me say that I don’t think the word “appropriate” with respect to clothing has anything to do with brand names or price of the clothing.
Alternatively, I think appropriateness has much to do with our self-esteem. I believe the clothing we wear says much about the way we feel about ourselves. And this comes from a man who wears bow-ties. Love yourself in that respect. Let your fashion be prompted by the Holy Ghost, not by the world in particular. Again, there is much clothing that can be acquired to make you look your child-of-God best and reflect your divine heritage. The Holy Ghost and your testimony will love it.
Another step deals with the common, daily language we use. None of us would probably cuss or profane in the temple or a ward chapel. However, sometimes, even quoting someone else we let unholy phrases pass our lips. Rest assured that, if and when that happens, the Holy Ghost is offended and your testimony diminished. In fact, it can be equally tough when we are around others who use ugly language, even though we may not.
Recently, my neighbor was stranded in Youngstown, Ohio, for two days because of a vehicle breakdown. He said he was literally shocked by the frequent use of that four-letter word that we all find so offensive. Some individuals didn’t seem to be able to carry on a conversation without constantly using that word. He indicated that he just couldn’t wait to get away from that place.
I realize that none of us in this room would use that word, but perhaps there are other patterns of speech that we need to avoid. We should probably avoid gossip, backbiting, unfair criticism, expressions of abject anger, intolerance, and name calling, to list just a few. Instead, we can look for the moments to compliment, support, encourage, and express love and admiration. I think as we look for those types of opportunities, we will be led to even more of them. So guard your language; protect your testimony.
Let’s talk about the many places you visit on a daily basis and hence take your testimony with you. There is home, your apartment, possibly school, work, shopping, places of entertainment and recreation, the gym for workouts, etc. Occasionally, you will be in a place that has been dedicated to the purposes of our Heavenly Father—the school, the ward, other Church buildings, and, if you’re lucky, the House of the Lord—a temple. The various places you visit the most say much about the desires of your heart.
Right now, I think many of you spend a lot of your time here at the school, and possibly at work, because your current focused desire is to obtain an education that will benefit you the rest of your life. That is good. I know from my personal experience that this school, housed in a dedicated facility, offers many opportunities for the growing of testimonies. These opportunities come both in and out of the classroom. I commend you for being here. There are a lot of great people here who possess strong, growing testimonies. Associating with them will be pleasing to the Holy Ghost, and your individual testimony.
Now, although it may seem nearly impossible, there will come a time when, once you have completed your degree, that you will have a little more discretionary time and money that you can choose to spend on other mortal and eternal desires. Deciding how and where you spend your money and, more importantly, your time, will become more challenging. I watch people, members of the Church, all the time trying to decide between career and Church service, between a larger home with the wife working or a smaller home with mother at home with the children, between even having children or just having dogs, between a used mini-van and a $50,000 brand new suburban with movie screens that carries with it a great debt load, between a $16 pair of jeans at Costco or a pair of designer jeans with holes in them already for $50, between a substantial fast offering contribution and an unlimited data plan for their cell phone. I could go on and on. So could you.
The point is, where we spend our resources becomes a reflection and a fulfillment of true desires for this mortal existence. At the same time, where we spend our days influences and shapes those desires. My advice, then, would be that for the protection and growth of testimonies, we should arrange our schedules to frequent the dedicated places as often as reasonably possible. When we need to be at this school, let us be here. Let’s attend sacrament meeting, almost without fail, even on vacation. Let us be in fast and testimony meeting, and grow our testimonies through silent and vocal expression. Let us attend priesthood and Relief Society meetings as scheduled. Let us attend tithing settlement without fail. Let’s attend baptisms of family and friends. Let’s be found in the homes of those we home teach and visit teach. Let us be found at the bedside of the sick.
All of us that are over the age of 12 should establish our worthiness through the temple-recommend process to attend the House of the Lord frequently, and perform the ordinances that we can for those who are waiting for our service. As a former ordinance worker, I can promise you the blessings from temple service will overcompensate you for your time spent. Those temple-service blessings cannot be found anywhere else in this mortal life. Your very soul can be uplifted every time you go.
I’ve observed numerous young men and women who are not endowed yet who come to the temple on a weekly basis to do baptisms for the dead. My, how their flower of testimony grows and is nourished. Your faithful temple service will be rewarded with experiences you may not have even imagined up to now. Your frequent service will greatly magnify your feelings of love from the Savior and Heavenly Father to you personally.
Let us follow the wise admonition to “Stand … in holy places” (D&C 87:8) and thereby bring protection and growth to our testimonies.
If you will give me a couple more minutes, I would like to conclude with a couple of personal experiences that have occurred recently in my life. I have a friend who I have known for about 30 years. He is a wonderful man with great skills and accomplishments. He has served extensively in the Church, in a bishopric and on the high council and other positions. He has expressed a strong testimony of the gospel over the years. His vocal renditions have touched the hearts of many. Unfortunately, over the past few months, he has made what even he calls some terrible choices. These choices have seemed so completely out of character to all who know him, to the point that it is hard to believe he actually made those choices. These choices have put his membership in the Church in jeopardy and have brought heartache to his spouse, family, and friends.
All of us who love him are doing what we can to support and hope and pray for his future efforts to recover. I can only make sense of it by thinking that somehow, over time, little by little, he chose not to closely nourish and feed his testimony, so that the ground became dry and barren. Hence, he has become scorched by the wildfire of the adversary.
Let me end on a positive note. On Memorial Day, I went back to Oak City, Utah, and put flowers on my dad’s grave. I also wanted to visit my cousin Lisa and her husband, Lavell. We have had many good times together in the past. Their daughter Kirsten graduated from LDS Business College five years ago. However, I hadn’t seen them for almost four years. It was heartbreaking to discover that Lavell, the husband, has been bedridden for the past three years with MS. He can barely arise from his bed to use the restroom and has to keep the bedroom darkened because the light hurts his eyes. He doesn’t go outside. He can’t go for a ride up the canyon. He rarely sees a sunset.
In a touching conversation with him, Lavell commented: “Some would say I have lost everything, but I certainly don’t feel that way. I have my dear Lisa and my children and my grandchildren. They are mine forever. My son Jake has moved his little family back to Oak City so as to be able to help Lisa care for me. And I have my extended family members like yourself. But most importantly, I have a testimony of the gospel. I can’t count all the times my Father in Heaven has strengthened me and built up that testimony over the last three years. With the comfort of the Holy Ghost, I have had no feelings of ‘Why me?’ I know my Heavenly Father loves me. I am determined to cling to that testimony until I can leave this sick body behind. Nothing will be of greater importance to me on the other side of the veil than my testimony.”
My dear brothers and sisters, I believe that with all my heart. Nothing will be more important to any of us than our testimony. I hope there may be something in what I have said today that will help you protect and grow and nurture and nourish your testimony, that nothing will get in the way, and that you will have it each and every day of your life in a strong and growing fashion is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.