Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Lifetime of Being "Truly Converted"

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we talk a lot about being "truly converted." There seems to be a silent gradation of testimony among the members. Being converted is not the same as being "truly" converted. Being converted once upon a time is not sufficient to carry one throughout life in mortality. The quality of one's conversion is a lifetime pursuit, one never to be taken for granted or guaranteed for even a moment.

President Lorenzo Snow
Tomorrow's Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society lesson throughout the Church will come from the teachings of President Lorenzo Snow, who tells a moving story about how he initially acquired his testimony. He was baptized and confirmed in June 1836 at the age of 22. Later, he wrote: “I believed they [the Latter-day Saints] had the true religion, and I joined the Church. So far my conversion was merely a matter of reason.” He remembered, “I was perfectly satisfied that I had done what was wisdom for me to do under the circumstances.” Although he was content for a time with this understanding, he soon yearned for a special manifestation of the Holy Ghost. He said, “I had had no manifestation, but I expected one.”

The key element of his story that leaped from the page for me was "I expected one." Do we expect to have spiritual gifts in our lives today? Do we expect answers to our prayers when we offer up our petitions to a loving Father in Heaven? Do we expect to receive eternal life through our faithfulness? It is a common expression among prophets I have known personally to expect miracles when they lay their hands on someone's head. I include in my definition of "prophets" both those who are set apart specifically to lead the Church and those who are not leading anyone but their family members.

Lorenzo Snow continues: “This manifestation did not immediately follow my baptism, as I expected,” he recalled. “But, although the time was deferred, when I did receive it, its realization was more perfect, tangible and miraculous than even my strongest hopes had led me to anticipate. One day while engaged in my studies, some two or three weeks after I was baptized, I began to reflect upon the fact that I had not obtained a knowledge of the truth of the work — that I had not realized the fulfillment of the promise: ‘He that doeth my will shall know of the doctrine;’ [see John 7:17] and I began to feel very uneasy.

“I laid aside my books, left the house and wandered around through the fields under the oppressive influence of a gloomy, disconsolate spirit, while an indescribable cloud of darkness seemed to envelop me. I had been accustomed, at the close of the day, to retire for secret prayer to a grove, a short distance from my lodgings, but at this time I felt no inclination to do so.

“The spirit of prayer had departed, and the heavens seemed like brass over my head. At length, realizing that the usual time had come for secret prayer, I concluded I would not forego my evening service, and, as a matter of formality, knelt as I was in the habit of doing, and in my accustomed retired place, but not feeling as I was wont to feel."

Have you experienced the "indescribable cloud of darkness," doubt and even fear in your pursuit of the truth about God? Have you felt discouraged in that pursuit? Have you ignored the promptings you've felt to seek a higher path in spirituality, regardless of which of the many paths leading to religious endeavor you have pursued? This experience of Lorenzo Snow seems all too typical in the mortal realm. It is certainly reminiscent of what happened to Joseph Smith in another grove of trees in upper state New York on a spring morning in 1830. It seems consistent with everyone I have ever known who has confronted and overcome the powers of evil so prevalent in our lives today. That Satan would do all in his power to dismantle one's faith in the pursuit of the knowledge God has promised us should not come as a big surprise.

Then in that moment of despair, Lorenzo continues: “I had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray, than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rustling of silken robes, and immediately the Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and O, the joy and happiness I felt! No language can describe the instantaneous transition from a dense cloud of mental and spiritual darkness into a refulgence of light and knowledge, as it was at that time imparted to my understanding. I then received a perfect knowledge that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and of the restoration of the Holy Priesthood, and the fulness of the gospel.

“It was a complete baptism — a tangible immersion in the heavenly principle or element, the Holy Ghost; and even more real and physical in its effects upon every part of my system than the immersion by water; dispelling forever, so long as reason and memory last, all possibility of doubt or fear in relation to the fact handed down to us historically, that the ‘Babe of Bethlehem’ is truly the Son of God; also the fact that He is now being revealed to the children of men, and communicating knowledge, the same as in the apostolic times. I was perfectly satisfied, as well I might be, for my expectations were more than realized, I think I may safely say, in an infinite degree.

“I cannot tell how long I remained in the full flow of this blissful enjoyment and divine enlightenment, but it was several minutes before the celestial element, which filled and surrounded me, began gradually to withdraw. On arising from my kneeling posture, with my heart swelling with gratitude to God beyond the power of expression, I felt — I knew that he had conferred on me what only an Omnipotent Being can confer — that which is of greater value than all the wealth and honors worlds can bestow.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, Chapter 3).

Unlike the "born-again" Christians, many of whom can point to a once-in-a-lifetime moment where they opened their heart to God and received a witness, Lorenzo Snow went forward growing in faith and light and truth from that moment on, never wavering in his formative experience with the witness he received from the Holy Ghost.

And so it is and must be with each of us. We do not believe in a "once and done" kind of conversion. True conversion is a lifetime pursuit. Our initial introduction to the power of the Holy Ghost is only a good beginning.

Later in his life, reflecting upon this early experience, President Snow said: "The foundation upon which we have placed our faith is grand and glorious. I know this for myself. I had been in this Church but a short time when I succeeded in securing the most perfect knowledge that there was a God, that there was a Son, Jesus Christ, and that Joseph Smith was acknowledged of God as His prophet. It was a knowledge that no man could communicate. It came through a revelation from the Almighty. That is a very good starting point for a Latter-day Saint, and it is something that every person, who has any ambition at all to advance in this path, will need at some time or other. He will come into circumstances of such a nature that he will need strength, and that strength will come from a knowledge of the fact that the path in which he is traveling will lead him to the possession of his highest and best desires." (Ibid., emphasis mine).

All who seek truth independently and sincerely are offered this promise at the end of The Book of Mormon:

"Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

"And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." (Moroni 10:3-5).

What person living on the earth today would not want to know and understand "the truth of all things?" In a world filled with contradictory voices seeking to influence others in so many disparate paths, who would not welcome the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide them unerringly back into God's presence? Who would not welcome the gift of discernment to be enabled to sift and distill truth from the chaff that blows in the wind of public opinion indiscriminately?

Lorenzo Snow believed spiritually what he came to know at first only intellectually. He believed the pursuit of light and truth was an ongoing endeavor. Said he, so long ago: "I feel that the Latter-day Saints are advancing; that they are receiving an education. We are getting up higher and higher. We are advancing to a higher condition and sphere and to a higher plane, and we are receiving such an education that the wisdom of the world with all its attainments and false doctrines and principles, will have no effect upon the Latter-day Saints, for they are rising above the theories and hypothesis of human inventions and soaring in things of truth that raise the mind, exalt the understanding, and establishing them[selves] more and more fully in the true principles of life and glory. We are filled in our hearts with these truths and we cannot tell the day or the hour in which our faith has been increased, but we feel, when we look back over the last week, month or year, that we have increased in faith and in the knowledge of faith and power of God; we know that we have got nearer our God and we feel that we are in fellowship with God our Father." (Ibid.).

So my question to all of us is this: How is it we can constantly "be soaring in things of truth" day by day? By what instrumentality is it possible? What is required on our part to make this a reality as we pursue our goals here in mortality? How is it our spiritual progress can be ongoing when our "mortality" constantly impedes our innate desires for spiritual growth?

President Snow has an answer: "Every man has got to learn to stand upon his own knowledge; he cannot depend upon his neighbor; every man must be independent; he must depend upon his God for himself entirely. It depends upon himself to see if he will stem the tide of trouble and overcome the impediments that are strewn in the pathway of life to prevent his progress. A man can get information by the operations of the Holy Spirit, and he approaches to God and increases in his faith in proportion as he is diligent." (Ibid.).

So what is required on our part is diligence. I believe it is inherent in our quest for truth that we become more consistent, more earnest, more inclined to be involved in spiritual pursuits. That includes our reading materials, our proximity to spiritual things, and the choice of our companions in life. Like singing, it is much easier to carry a tune when standing next to an accomplished singer in a choir. Our choice of what we permit into our lives to influence us is in direct proportion to the degree we rise in light and truth. If you want to know whether Joseph Smith saw what he said he saw, don't ask your local Catholic priest what he thinks about it. You can go to God personally in prayer and ask a simple question: "Heavenly Father, did you really call Joseph Smith as a latter-day prophet to restore the ancient church, and did you appear to him in a grove of trees in Palmyra, New York?" That might be followed by a sincere question, "Is The Book of Mormon really true?"

Too many times in life, I believe we do not really want to know the answers to difficult questions for fear we might learn the truth then have to actually do something about the knowledge we receive. And that involves change, something we humans seem loathe to undertake. As I grow older some things tend to go up with little or no effort required by me - my blood pressure, my cholesterol and my weight. Ignoring these vital risk factors with my family history is something I cannot afford to do. Not knowing those numbers actually CAN hurt me, just as not knowing the truth about God and our relationship to Him can hurt us when we are not diligent in seeking Him. Once we are on task, diligently involved in our own individual struggles with the aid of the Holy Ghost to guide us, we begin to accelerate in our spiritual quest. As with my charting my health risk factors which I desire to watch go down, down, down, the inverse relationship with spiritual matters must ideally look like a graph line going up, up, up. These are all individual matters and must be pursued diligently, as President Lorenzo Snow suggests.

In 1882, he would observe, "There are men among us upon whom the Spirit of the Almighty once rested mightily, whose intentions were once as good and pure as those of angels, and who made covenants with God that they would serve Him and keep His commandments under every and all circumstances. . . But how is it now with some of those Elders? They do not feel so to-day. Their affections are set upon the things of this world which the Lord has enabled them to acquire, that they wait now until they are called, and in many instances when called, they obey more out of a desire to retain their standing and position, than a real heart-felt love of the labor to which they may have been called.

"This is the condition of all men, no matter how well they start out, who allow their thoughts and affections to run after the world and its ways, and it is a plain and indisputable proof that when this is the case with men they love the world more than they love the Lord and His work upon the earth. Having received the light of the everlasting Gospel, and partaken of the good things of the kingdom, and being of the seed of Israel and heirs to great and glorious promises, we should labor with fidelity and diligence to accomplish what God has designed to do through us; we should be men and women of faith and power as well as good works, and when we discover ourselves careless or indifferent in the least, it should be sufficient for us to know it in order to mend our ways and return to the path of duty." (Ibid.).

True conversion, lasting lifetime conversion, consists not in making merely a good beginning. There were dozens of men who were close to the Prophet Joseph Smith and had many visions, manifestations, and visitations from heavenly messengers. How, one would ask, could such men then lose their way spiritually? Ask yourselves, if an angel were to appear to me, show me the gold plates from which Joseph translated The Book of Mormon, and then bear a solemn witness to me that God lives and Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, would I ever depart from that sure knowledge? Yet many did, even some in the upper room of the Whitney Store in Kirtland who were eyewitnesses of a visitation from the Father and the Son. Some rebelled against Joseph's leadership, as President Snow attests. There truly is a witness more powerful than sight.

It behooves each of us to wake up if we are currently asleep spiritually. When all that we hold dear in this mortality is stripped away, what will we still possess? It will be the priceless witness of who we are as spiritually begotten sons and daughters of God, redeemed from our fallen condition by the Lord Jesus Christ. We must come to understand that absolute truth by the power of the Holy Ghost and know that Joseph Smith restored these precious truths in our day, that we are led by true prophets today, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living church upon the earth today that is infinitely and eternally sanctioned by God. (D&C 1:30).

Concludes President Snow: "And if there is any man or woman that is not fairly awake, may the time soon come that the Spirit and power of the Holy Ghost may be upon them, that it may teach them things past, present and to come, and by the assistance of the Lord, plant righteousness and the principle of truth in their systems, that they may be prepared for the storms that are coming." (Ibid.).

The storms will surely come. They will be more intense as time unfolds. Many of the storms of life have already battered us. We wonder how it could be worse than it has already been. But many more will follow. We can find our anchor in Jesus Christ. Said Nephi: "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen." (2 Nephi 31:20-21).

Elder John A. Widtsoe
Let me offer one final word to those who are troubled by all the political upheaval we are witnessing in America and around the world today. In the midst of the World War II, an almost unimaginable international conflagration the modern world had seldom known, Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counseled people who were worried back then. Nazism was on the march, there was war in the Pacific, and nation after nation seemed to be drawn into war. This is what Brother Widtsoe said in 1942:

"Above the roar of cannon and airplane, the maneuvers and plans of men, the Lord always determines the tide of battle. So far and no farther does He permit the evil one to go in his career to create human misery. The Lord is ever victorious; He is the Master to whose will Satan is subject. Though all hell may rage, and men may follow evil, the purposes of the Lord will not fail." (Conference Report, April 1942, 34).

We are reminded: "The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught. For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round. Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men." (D&C 3:1-3).

No matter what happens to America in the second term of President Barack Obama, the future is known in advance by God our Heavenly Father, and you may rest assured He has made ample provision for all the contingencies. Let your testimony of God's existence and His reality grow and flourish in the meantime, for He will never leave you comfortless if you are truly converted.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article, very welcome thoughts to me today. What a wonderful promise it is to be able to go to the source Himself, and ask God to reveal truth to us!