Four Fundamentals in Perfecting Our Faith
Jon Nichols Ensign College Senior Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment
November 08, 2022
""The purpose of prayer is to align us with the will of our Father in Heaven. As we gain a deeper understanding of prayer, we see it is less about asking for our will to be done, and more about understanding and accepting HIS will.""
Four Fundamentals in Perfecting Our FaithFinding the Time
The year I spent in college prior to my mission was one of the best personal growth years I have had in my life. While I cannot say it was my best academic year of my life, after all, I was a freshman going to college on the beach, it was an opportunity for me to learn about myself. I was fully independent for the first time in my life. My freshman year of college gave me the opportunity to test myself, physically, mentally, academically, and most of all, spiritually.
Being independent and away from home gives you lots of freedom. In those two semesters, I was faced with choices that I had never encountered prior to leaving home. In fact, it seemed when I was most aligned with living the gospel standards, Adversary worked even harder on me. Fortunately, the Lord saw fit to put the right people in my life. I developed a deep bond with four returned missionaries, in my student ward. As the semester ended and my mission call in hand, one of those new friends imparted some words of wisdom to me. At the time it seemed strange, but they still ring true to this day.
“Despite what anyone tells you, you will never have more time to study the gospel than when you are on your mission.”
Wasn’t this obvious? I was about to dedicate the next two years of my life to the Lord. Isn’t studying the gospel essential to preaching the gospel? Well, over the next two years, I had to constantly remind myself of these words. I often found myself thinking “How in the world did I have time to study the gospel? I am out proselyting during the day; my nights are filled with making calls to confirm appointments and check-in with other missionaries. And, sure, I get personal study in the morning, but I don’t focus well in the morning. Not to mention that, I had to study with a companion that I have to keep accountable. It was hard enough keeping myself awake and accountable, much less trying to keep someone else awake.” Fortunately, I am happy to report that I eventually learned my lesson and I found time to deepen my gospel knowledge.
However, can’t we all in some way relate to this mindset? How many of you right now feel that this is the busiest you have ever been in your life? If you ask a high school student about their time they might say “Between going to school, homework, seminary, hanging out with my friends, and preparing for college, I just don’t have enough time.” Many of you might say, “Between going to school, homework and projects, working, trying to date, and serving in my calling, I just don’t have enough time.” A young married person might say, “Between working full-time, taking care of the kids, going to soccer and basketball games, music lessons, and trying to serve in my calling, I just don’t have enough time.” Do you see the pattern here? No matter what stage of life you are in, you can always make the argument that you do not have enough time. However, when you start to look back at the time you once had, you will long for those days when you had “more time.” Brothers and sisters, might I suggest that you will never have more time than you do right now.
So, what do we do with our time? What we do with our time does matter. When we get caught up in the distractions of the world, we find that the sands of time slip swiftly through our fingers. However, when we prioritize those things that matter most, we will find that balancing time becomes easier.
So, what are our highest priorities? Where should we be spending out time? Fortunately, as we look to guidance from our latter-day prophets and apostles, they have shown and told us we know exactly what our highest priorities are. As President Russell M. Nelson told young adults in a recent worldwide devotional, “As you make your testimony your highest priority, watch for miracles to happen in your life.” Strengthening our testimonies requires building and perfecting our faith in God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.
We can do this through what Elder Neil A. Maxwell called the “four fundamentals in perfecting “that which is lacking in [our] faith.” This is done through studying, serving, praying, and worshiping. I want to direct my remarks today around how we can better do each one of these.
ServingAs he came to the end of his ministry here on this earth, King Benjamin left his people with his prophetic counsel, “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17) When we take time to serve those around us, we become instruments in the Lord’s hands. We begin to develop the Christlike attributes of our Savior, thus, drawing us nearer to Him.
In in a conference talk given in April 2008, Elder Carlos Amado taught: “Service makes us strong in our faith and useful in His kingdom. Service gives us purpose and courage in life. It brings us closer to God and helps us refine our divine nature. It teaches us to love and understand our fellowmen, and it helps us forget about our personal desires, eliminating selfishness, pride, and ingratitude. It teaches us to think of the needs of others, which allows us to develop the virtues that the Savior possesses.”
Service can be rendered in a myriad of ways. We can help others by serving them economically, socially, physically, and spiritually. Whether it be a small or large act, service increases our ability to love God and love others.
One example that I recently came across is Faith, who at the age of 8, was diagnosed with Chronic Recurrent Multifocal Osteomyelitis, or CRMO, a condition of inflammation of the bone. The pain Faith suffered on a daily basis is equivalent to having multiple small breaks in her leg on a daily basis.
While learning to live with the pain was not easy for her, Faith found an increase in joy through service. In the days she was struggling the most, Faith thought, “If there is nothing else, I can do to help myself, why not do something for someone else.”
Faith has led food local food drives, organized beach clean-ups, made blankets for the elderly, raised money to build a library in Togo, Africa, and provided support to others in the CRMO community. Through her countless volunteer hours, the impact of Faith’s efforts has been felt in her local community and around the world.
“When I am able to serve other people, that is when I am the happiest,” said Faith. “That is when I feel that…I am being the best I can be. (I) feel Heavenly Father and Christ’s love through serving others because I am fulfilling something that they want me to do.”
The Lord has promised that “I am among you as he that serveth.” (Luke 22:27) If we take the time to serve others we will not only draw nearer to the Savior, but we will have a greater understanding of His personality and attributes. Our faith can be lifted while we are lifting others.
StudyingPresident Nelson has taught us that “In the Church, obtaining an education and getting knowledge are a religious responsibility. We educate our minds so that one day we can render service of worth to somebody else.” If the glory of God is intelligence, then it is important for each of us to study to increase our spiritual and academic knowledge.
My grandmother has always stood as an ideal pillar of gospel and academic knowledge. Nana was the first person in my family to join the church, and she is one of the smartest, hardest working people I know. After graduating high school, she wanted to become a nurse. Keep in mind that Nana grew up in the deep South and in a different time. Feeling that a career in nursing wasn’t very lady-like, her father told her that if she would do a year of schooling at an all-women’s college, he would allow her to pursue nursing if she still had the desire. Well, a year passed, and soon she would enter nursing school.
Upon graduating and marrying my grandfather, his work would take them from a small town in South Carolina to the big city in Houston, Texas. Due to the demands of my grandfather’s employment, Nana was not able to work, but she lived an ideal life in Texas. Shortly after the birth of their third child (my Uncle), my grandfather suddenly, and without warning, left his family. She was devastated. In her mid-30’s my grandmother was far away from family, jobless, and caring for a newborn and two young children.
So, what did she do? She fell back on what she does best, work hard and study. She found a job at a small hospital and began to work. “I knew I had to further my education in order to support my family,” Nana told me. Her days would be comprised of working full-time, going to school part-time, and raising three children. While working she became best friends with, as what she described, “the best nurse she had ever seen” and began talking with her about God. Soon Nana would allow the missionaries to come to her home. She spent a significant amount of time studying the gospel. Questions about whether God truly restored his church through the prophet Joseph Smith lingered in her mind, but she continued the discussions and studying the Book of Mormon. However, it wasn’t until she read LeGrand Richard’s “A Marvelous Work and A Wonder” that the spirit testified to her of the truthfulness of the gospel. “I don’t know how anyone with an open mind can read that book and not be converted to the gospel.”
Studying, both temporally and spiritually, was at the heart of what helped Nana increase her faith through difficult trials. Fortunately, at Ensign College you all have the unique opportunity to combine both spiritual and academic learning to help you become “capable and trusted disciples of Jesus Christ.” Additionally, we have the inspired Come Follow Me curriculum, to significantly enhance “a home-centered and Church-supported plan to learn doctrine, strengthen faith, and foster greater personal worship.”
As we make the time to engage in deep and prayerful study, we will become intellectually and spiritually nourished, and our faith will be magnified through gaining a greater light and knowledge.
PrayingNow I mentioned, my first year of school was spent at a college by the beach, after my mission, I packed up and decided officially to move to Utah for college, and I have been here ever since. When you live 2000 miles away from family, there is a certain expectation that you will call home regularly. This is not a strength of mine. In fact, having a conversation on the phone was one of my least favorite activities. I dreaded it! However, I fulfilled my duty as a son and grandson and called home regularly. I am sure the depth of those early conversations was lacking, yet each and month after month, I called home.
As time passed, I started to notice that my family didn’t care about what I had to say. They just wanted to hear from me. Picking up the phone to call was an expression of love. Soon, my attitude began to change. As I made a sincere effort, I saw that I started to become the primary beneficiary of my calls. By taking a small amount of my time on a regular basis, I was able to deepen my relationship with my family. I probably learned more about my grandmothers in the years calling them than I had in my entire life. It led to opportunities for family history and temple work, and it gave me a better understanding of the incredible lives of my ancestors.
I feel our communication with Heavenly Father is similar. If we just go through the motions, the outcome of our prayers will manifest little. However, if we recognize prayer for what it is, an act of love we show to a Father in Heaven who wants to hear from us, our relationship with Him will deepen.
As the Bible dictionary tells us: “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others, the blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work.”
Two things stand out to me in this definition. First, the purpose of prayer is to align us with the will of our Father in Heaven. As we gain a deeper understanding of prayer, we see it is less about asking for our will to be done, and more about understanding and accepting HIS will.
The second is that prayer is work! What an interesting way to put it. Citing the same repetitious phrases while falling asleep at night, is easy, but is that really prayer? Does it work? Making prayer work means giving our all to sincerely communicate with our Father in heaven. It means bearing our souls to Him. Our gratitude, desires, doubts, and struggles.
I love the Follow Him podcast with Bros. Hank Smith and John Bytheway. It has become a regular companion to my Come Follow me study. In the episode entitled, “Why does God need to be praised so much” Bro. Smith shared the following: “At night when you kneel down to pray and you might think, ‘Well, God already knows what I need. God already knows what I've done. Why do I have to pray?’ It's for you. It's not for Him. It's for you to find out some things about you. Not for God to find out some things about you or for God to find out some things about God. It's for you.”
As you recognize prayer as a form of work and focus sincere efforts to communicate with your Father in Heaven, your perspective will be changed, and your will be better aligned with His. You will better see His hand in your life, and your faith in Him will be magnified through accepting His will.
WorshipingThis year in our Come Follow Me study, we had the opportunity to study the book of Psalms. Admittedly, I had never spent much time in the book of Psalms prior to August of this year. However, as I read and studied these chapters, I found that my love and appreciation grew for hymns of worship. The gift of music was not a spiritual gift that the Lord saw fit to bestow upon me. In fact, for much of my life, I was passive when it came to singing hymns, either going through the motions or not participating at all. However, as I pondered over these chapters in Psalms it finally hit me. When considering the Psalms or hymns, they are hymns of worship. Worshiping is for the worshiper, not the worship-ee. We are not commanded to praise and worship the Lord for Him. It is for us.
Our worship is an indication of where our hearts and minds are. When we worship, it changes us. It draws us nearer to God. We begin to understand His will.
As Bishop Dean Davies taught in October of 2016, “Worship is essential and central to our spiritual life. It is something we should yearn for, seek out, and strive to experience…When we worship in spirit, we invite light and truth into our souls, which strengthens our faith.”
Does your worship do this for you? If not, consider being more purposeful and less casual in your worship. Too often many of us find that we are just going through the motions in our church meetings, prayer, scripture study, and temple worship. Trying to cross off another item on some sort of a salvation checklist. When we do this, we are missing the whole point of worshiping. Worshiping has less to do about where we are or what we are doing, rather it is about where our hearts are.
Worshiping God can by manifested in a myriad of ways, and all are critical in strengthening our faith in Him. However, I do want to draw your attention to one form of worship that has been a particular focus for our Prophet. As President Nelson closed this last general conference, he challenged us to “focus on the temple in ways you never have before.” I found this as very clear prophetic council that temple worship is more important than it ever has been. (And it has always been incredibly important!)
Additionally, if we look back through the teachings of President Nelson, he has taught, “The temple lies at the center of strengthening our faith and spiritual fortitude because the Savior and His doctrine are the very heart of the temple. Everything taught in the temple, through instruction and through the Spirit, increases our understanding of Jesus Christ….”.
“…please make time for the Lord in His holy house. Nothing will strengthen your spiritual foundation like temple service and temple worship.”
Whatever your temple worship looks like today, I encourage you to increase it! When we approach our worship with a broken heart and contrite spirit, we change and become more like Him. As we strive to have more purposeful worship, our spiritual foundation will be strengthened.
I recognize that time is at a premium for you, our Ensign College students. Many of you make great sacrifices to be here, and just like my grandmother fought to create a better life for her family, both temporally and spiritually, you are doing the same for yours. I love and respect you for that.
Take advantage of the time you have now. I am not saying it will be easy. There will be long days and late nights ahead. Distractions of the world will continue to pull at you. Physical, social, and emotional obstacles will continue to persist. However, as you prioritize serving, studying, praying, and worshiping you will take charge of your testimony. You will truly “see miracles happen in your life.”
I testify that the Lord knows and loves each one of you. His atoning sacrifice not only broke the chains of death and sin but allowed him to experience all our pains and afflictions. That includes every stress, anxiety, pressure, and mental health challenge you face on a daily basis. Turn to Him. Build your faith in Him. He will provide you with the strength and comfort that you need to endure. I share this in His sacred name, even Jesus Christ, amen.