Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Precious Gift of Testimony – Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley – Lesson #9 – May 14th, 2017

Intro: As we begin our lesson today, I encourage you to start thinking about your testimony, and perhaps not as one big entire abstract belief, but the powerful, specific and individual testimonies you have received from certain experiences, from fasting, prayer and scripture study, adversity, and most of the experiences of mortality. Have those in mind and perhaps be ready to share them later on in this lesson.

President Hinckley begins this lesson by describing his earliest stirrings of testimony:
“The earliest instance of which I have recollection of spiritual feelings was when I was about five years of age, a very small boy. I was crying from the pain of an earache. … My mother prepared a bag of table salt and put it on the stove to warm. My father softly put his hands upon my head and gave me a blessing, rebuking the pain and the illness by authority of the holy priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ. He then took me tenderly in his arms and placed the bag of warm salt at my ear. The pain subsided and left. I fell asleep in my father’s secure embrace. As I was falling asleep, the words of his administration floated through my mind. That is the earliest remembrance I have of the exercise of the authority of the priesthood in the name of the Lord.

“Later in my youth, my brother and I slept in an unheated bedroom in the winter. … Before falling into a warm bed, we knelt to say our prayers. There were expressions of simple gratitude. … I recall jumping into my bed after I had said amen, pulling the covers up around my neck, and thinking of what I had just done in speaking to my Father in Heaven in the name of His Son. I did not have great knowledge of the gospel. But there was some kind of lingering peace and security in communing with the heavens in and through the Lord Jesus. …

“That testimony grew in my heart as a missionary when I read the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, which further bore witness of Him. That knowledge became the foundation of my life, standing on the footings of the answered prayers of my childhood. Since then my faith has grown much further. I have become His Apostle, appointed to do His will and teach His word. I have become His witness to the world.”
We have all had these experiences in our lives when we felt the love of and connection to our Heavenly Father and His son Jesus Christ. We have prayed at our mother’s knees, repeating her words until they became our own; kneeling in family prayer; giving and hearing talks and lessons in church. We have felt those stirrings as we experience the beautiful blessings Heavenly Father has given us: the beautiful world around us, the intimate and joyous relationships we experience, and the privilege of being born at a time when the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ is here upon the earth. Each experience with the Spirit prepares us for the next and the next until we gain firm and faithful testimony of these things. We read the Book of Mormon and gain a testimony of its truthfulness. We pay tithing and receive blessings, and our testimony of that principle grows. We pray mightily in the midst of adversity and gain a testimony of our Heavenly Fathers deep, unwavering love for us, and of the power of our humbly surrendering to His will.

1. Testimony is the great strength of the Church and the wellspring of faith and activity.
President Hinckley shares this powerful testimony:
We have become as a great family spread across this vast world. We speak different tongues. We live under a variety of circumstances. But in the heart of each of us beats a common testimony: You and I know that God lives and is at the helm of this His holy work. We know that Jesus is our Redeemer, who stands at the head of this Church which carries His name. We know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and is a prophet who stands at the head of this the dispensation of the fulness of times. We know that the priesthood was restored upon his head and that it has come down to us in this day in an unbroken line. We know that the Book of Mormon is a true testament of the reality and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.2

This thing which we call testimony is the great strength of the Church. It is the wellspring of faith and activity. … It is as real and powerful as any force on the earth. The Lord described it when He spoke to Nicodemus and said, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). This thing which we call testimony is difficult to define, but its fruits are plainly evident. It is the Holy Spirit testifying through us.

2. Testimony is a quiet, encouraging voice that sustains us as we walk in faith and impels us to action.

President Hinckley shares that:
“Personal testimony is the factor which turns people around in their living as they come into this Church. This is the element which motivates the membership to forsake all in the service of the Lord. This is the quiet, encouraging voice which sustains without pause those who walk in faith down to the last days of their lives.
It is a mysterious and wonderful thing, a gift from God to man. It overrides wealth or poverty when one is called to serve. This testimony which is carried in the hearts of our people motivates to an impelling duty. It is found in young and old. It is found in the seminary student, in the missionary, in the bishop and the stake president, in the mission president, in the Relief Society sister, in every General Authority. It is heard from those who hold no office other than membership. It is of the very essence of this work. It is what is moving the work of the Lord forward across the world. It impels to action. It demands that we do what we are asked to do. It brings with it the assurance that life is purposeful, that some things are of far greater importance than others,  that we are on an eternal journey, that we are answerable unto God. …
It is this element, weak and somewhat feeble at first, which moves every investigator in the direction of conversion. It pushes every convert toward security in the faith. …
Wherever the Church is organized its power is felt. We stand on our feet and say that we know. … The simple fact is that we do know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that this is their cause and their kingdom. The words are simple; the expression comes from the heart. It is at work wherever the Church is organized, wherever there are missionaries teaching the gospel, wherever there are members sharing their faith.

It is something that cannot be refuted. Opponents may quote scripture and argue doctrine endlessly. They can be clever and persuasive. But when one says, “I know,” there can be no further argument. There may not be acceptance, but who can refute or deny the quiet voice of the inner soul speaking with personal conviction?

In this section of the lesson, many experiences of gaining and strengthening a testimony are shared. I’d like to make that a little more personal to us individually at this time, but encourage you to read those stories in your personal study.

I have asked Sister Denise Johnson to share a story where she gained a Testimony of something important to her:

(Denise’s testimony…)

I remember a time when I thought my testimony was firm and secure. I was 15, and very wise and well-versed in scriptures and gospel doctrine (as we all think we are at 15)…so much so that when I invited my non-member friend to meet with the missionaries, I answered a pointed question by the missionaries about my idea of what Heavenly Father was like. In all my youthful wisdom, I said: “I think He’s really….big!”

Needless to stay, my friend never joined the church. Today I feel a different testimony growing in my heart. In my middle-age wisdom, I realize that I am infant in my knowledge of testimony and faith… but I have a desire to increase it, and Heavenly Father blesses my efforts, even when they feel like baby steps.

Just after a second truly life-threatening, week-long hospital stay the end of March, that was swift on the heels of a first life-threatening hospital stay in January, I was struggling mightily. I had no energy, but felt I had to go right back to work to keep my job, and also because we can’t afford my not working. It was everything I could do (the day after I was released), to even lift my arm to curl a lock of hair. I would go to work during those early recovery days and rest on the couch for an hour here and there. Often, more rest than work. I struggled to do the things required of my high-pressure job with any kind of accuracy and enthusiasm. I felt like I didn’t know if I could continue to work. I felt like giving up. I felt terrified about the outcomes of tests requiring bloodwork, thyroid biopsy, and breast biopsy, and echocardiogram among others. And even more terrified about the things we didn’t seem to be able to resolve.

I felt overwhelmed with the things that were being demanded of me and sheer terror at my ability to fix it, to do what was required, to even care or do anything but sleep. The future felt full of a kind of limbo nightmare, and I felt defeated, done, and oh so scared.

This went on for days…let’s see…I went back to work on March 28th…and on April 5th  I was still in the depths of fear, fatigue, and despair. Normally, I am an optimist, a woman who chooses faith. In fact, my patriarchal blessing declares that I have “exceeding faith”. That day I had no idea if faith would ever return. And I was living in this toxic tar pit of some pretty scary “what ifs”? What if I couldn’t work? What if I had cancer again? What if I needed constant care? What if I had to repeat chemo? What if…? …you can imagine how many of those a woman in my position could suffocate in, fear-wise. I felt the acid tar pulling me deeper and deeper into the dark, oxygen-deprived and bottomless hell I felt would overcome me at any time. At what felt like my worst moment, a dear friend came and spoke some hard medical truths, as she does sometimes…and thank Heaven for her honesty…especially when I don’t like what I hear, but the truth needs to be heard.   I sobbed, and bared my heavy heart. I confessed wanting to give up. She hugged and comforted me, listened and validated my feelings, but we did not resolve them. I took them home, dragging them along behind my sorry self.

I went home, slept my usual 12 hours and rose for work wondering how many more days I could even make myself do this. As I sat at my desk in the first few minutes of that early morning (April 6th: very symbolically, as I look back, which is how my loving Heavenly Father always teaches me) I remembered that a member of the bishopric had visited me the week before I was hospitalized. He’d asked me to speak in church about preparing ourselves to find the answers we seek as we watch conference. I wanted to give that talk with all my heart, but had plans with family that I had already canceled in January and then fell ill.  (Ironically, I ended up unable to attend the family weekend festivities as I was in the hospital anyway.) I felt the powerful Spirit of Inspiration when he asked me. He expressed that he felt it too. I knew there was inspiration involved. And yet, an all-knowing Heavenly Father had still issued the call. Wouldn’t God have known that when he inspired this good brother to ask, that I’d be unable to speak? We both wondered why, but still I had to decline. Family trumps talking in church for me. He said he understood and later in the week we emailed about maybe the important thing was that at a time I was experiencing such a fiery trial, he/He had asked. He’d expressed faith in my faith, and my faith felt stronger. And I’d felt Heavenly Father’s love for, and confidence in, me at that meeting.

I thought about that as I sat feeling nearly lifeless at my desk. I decided I would do “the next 10 minutes”. I wouldn’t try to do the whole day or week or future “whatever”, just the next 10 minutes. And after that 10 more.

Thinking of the conversation with Brother Shipley, I decided to prepare to listen to conference with these large and heavy questions on my mind. And to have an open a heart as I could for the answers I sought. I hadn’t been able to watch them live the week prior due to illness, and felt it was a good place to start. As I prayerfully prepared, I felt my choice confirmed by the spirit.

I opened the first General Women’s Conference talk online, as it was first chronologically, and that was my plan as I prayed for direction moments prior. Not more than a few minutes into this talk, my fear profoundly, and suddenly, shifted to faith. I felt peace. I felt calm. I felt an overwhelming Spirit of Heavenly Father’s love for me, and the firm knowledge that He had a plan for me, and that even if the answers I got, medically, were hard…well, hadn’t He helped me do A LOT of hard things already? I still felt weak, and physically unwell. But I was spiritually strong again, and I knew, from past experience, that is what would get me through.

This is what I read… (and by the way, THIS was the most important reason for Bro. Shipley’s invitation to me…so that I, personally, WOULD be prepared as I watched conference to receive the answers I sought!)

Trust in the Lord and Lean Not
Second Counselor in the Primary General Presidency
Play video

“In Proverbs 3:5–6, we read this counsel: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”
“This scripture comes with two admonitions, a warning, and a glorious promise.
“The two admonitions: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart” and “in all thy ways acknowledge him.”
“The warning: “Lean not unto thine own understanding.”
“And the glorious promise: “He shall direct thy paths.”
“Let’s first discuss the warning. The visual image gives us much to ponder. The warning comes in the words “lean not”—“lean not unto thine own understanding.” In English the word lean has a connotation of physically listing or moving to one side. When we physically lean toward one side or another, we move off center, we are out of balance, and we tip. When we spiritually lean to our own understanding, we lean away from our Savior. If we lean, we are not centered; we are not balanced; we are not focused on Christ.”
Of course, this is just an excerpt, and the rest of the talk was just as inspired, but this early part? It was exactly what I needed. It was exactly what my Heavenly Father delighted to bless me with. And He prepared it for me to receive…by Sister Cordon’s prayerful preparation and inspiration in this talk, and by her having this calling and the opportunity to speak. He prepared this gift for me by having commanded such a thing as general conference, and calling inspired leaders. He gave me not one, but two life-threatening, faith-shaking, and body-weakening, and oh-so-humbling experiences that would open my heart to hear what I needed to hear. He prepared me to be ready to receive answers by Bro. Shipley’s invitation, by my friend’s honest counsel, and by the whisperings of the Spirit that led me to this place at this moment. I have a testimony that Heavenly Father can organize the universe for each of us individually in specific, and miraculous ways. That testimony was strengthened and expanded through this experience.
As I listened that morning, I instantly shifted. Instantly. I became, again, a woman of faith. I stopped leaning away from Christ, and started leaning in with what meager resources I still had.  I gave back to Heavenly Father that which I could not, and still cannot control. And now I have focused my efforts on strengthening my faith, and my relationship with my Savior. Everything else is part of a larger plan I am not yet privy to, but because I have been through many a refiner’s fire before, I know both the brutal reality, and the beautiful blessings of being called to see how well I will seek and obey my Savior, and surrender my will to His.
Also…He helped me prepare my Relief Society lesson this morning (which is on Testimony) by giving me new, and everlasting truths of which to testify. And hopefully, if I prepared as I intended, someone will be preparing to hear what He and I have felt inspired to share today. I have a strong testimony of the Spirit that accompanies a gathering of his faithful sisters.
At this time, I would like to invite you, my sisters, to share what might be in your hearts with the invitation to think about and share your own testimonies of whatever the Spirit might have brought to your minds.
(Sisters’ testimonies…)
3. Each of us can obtain a testimony of the reality of God and His Beloved Son and the restoration of Their Work.
(A. Share my experience with Elder Russel M. Nelson’s challenge from conference to read and study the references to Jesus Christ in the topical guide. How I felt comforted, and healed, and strengthened in my faith in the priesthood blessings that promised healing and wholeness back when I was diagnosed with cancer. )
(B. Share my experience with the challenge to read the Book of Mormon in 6 months, and how I’ve been reading it like a novel, invoking the Spirit with prayer, and asking to be taught what the Spirit feels I should be learning. I finished it this past week. It was powerful and the experience blessed me with an even stronger testimony of the Book of Mormon, and the truths it contains about the atonement of Jesus Christ. I highly recommend that style once in a while.)
 A little more than a month after that April 6th shift to faith, I feel strengthened: Physically, but also spiritually. I am grateful anew for the humbling experiences that had been gifted to me this early 2017. I went from oxygen Sats in the 40s-70s and 24/7 oxygen, back to normal in a couple of weeks. All those scary medical tests? They’ve almost all come back normal. I am facing a surgery this week that may or may not result in the findings of cancer*, but I feel at peace in my firm testimony of Heavenly Father’s plan for me, in the strength and protection found all through the Book of Mormon, and available to each of us if we seek it. I have a testimony of this, and it has strengthened my faith. I know, without doubt, that can happen for each of us.  It’s interesting to me, and a testimony of how individually AND SPECIFICALLY the Savior loves us, that two verses after the Proverbs 3:5-6 that Sister Cordon spoke about, is verse 8: “And you will find health in the navel, and marrow in the bone. That one, at that moment, was a tender mercy for me.”

Pres Hinckley: (in closing) We must live up to our testimony and share it with others.

Said Paul to Timothy: “Take heed unto thyself”—listen to this—“and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Timothy 4:16). What a wonderful direction Paul gave to young Timothy.

He went on to say this: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power—the power of the message; and of love—love for the people, love for what we have to offer; a sound mind—the simple, understandable principles of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:8). Never, my brothers and sisters, be thou ashamed of the testimony of our Lord. … Here is a great charge, a mandate that is laid upon us: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.”11

This is God’s holy work. This is His Church and kingdom. The vision that occurred in the Sacred Grove was just as Joseph said it was. There is in my heart a true understanding of the importance of what happened there. The Book of Mormon is true. It testifies of the Lord Jesus Christ. His priesthood has been restored and is among us. The keys of that priesthood, which have come from heavenly beings, are exercised for our eternal blessing. Such is our testimony—yours and mine—a testimony which we must live up to and which we must share with others. I leave this testimony, my blessing, and my love with each of you and my invitation to continue to be part of this great latter-day miracle that is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The gospel is true. God lives. He loves us, and gives us what we need. He is a God of miracles, our strength, our comfort. He is power, and He is peace. Every single thing He promises, He gives us. I have been promised the miracle of being restored to wholeness, of being healthy, and being the matriarch of a large family who needs me that will live to bless them long into the future. I have been blessed, more than once, that angels on both sides of the veil are aiding in the fulfillment of those promises. I have felt them in the last week while I lay in the silence of biopsy rooms where I would, earlier, have felt full of fear and dread. Instead, I have felt the thinning of the veil in those rooms: my “in charge” maverick cowboy of a father, my loving grandma, many relatives, friends, and ancestors, and even posterity not yet mortal. I feel them here in this room in each of your smiling faces. I am loved. There is a plan for me. I know what the questions are. But I know the answers that are mine to seek, and those that are mine to give to God. You are loved. There is a plan for you. There is a way prepared for us to find blessings in the most difficult of challenges, to have our testimonies strengthened and to feel encircled about in the arms of His love.”
I have a strong and unshakable testimony that these things are available for all of us who diligently seek to know the Savior, and study His atonement for our sins, our illnesses and our suffering. Ours is to be impelled to action as we seek the blessings of faith in our lives, and then share our testimonies with others, so the Spirit can bear testimony to the hearer as well. My faith has often been strengthened by your testimonies, for which I am deeply and truly grateful. My testimony has been strengthened by being here, present, with each of you in this room today where the Holy Spirit, invited and in attendance, has touched our hearts. This is truth.
I bear testimony of these things in the name of my beloved Savior, friend and advocate, Jesus Christ!
*They did indeed find, and remove cancer, the following week, but no further treatment is required, and I left the hospital feeling better than I had in months!

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