No one is born a believer. At some point every person has to decide to either believe what they have learned or reject what they have learned. That goes for any culture and any lifestyle; they all come with a set of beliefs. My ancestors joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints back in the mid 1800s. As rich as my heritage is in the Lord’s restored church the process of conversion is the same for me as it is for every new convert. Do I believe what I have been raised to believe or is there something more correct or something else that resonates with my soul out there that draws me to it?
My story When I was young I never doubted, never questioned. My parents told me it was true (all the teachings of the church) and I never doubted them. My parents weren’t ones to lie to me. Actually, it never occurred to me that a parent would choose to lie to their children about something that important. I was 19 years old, and getting ready to go serve a mission for the Church when my first crisis of conscience hit me.
I went to my mother and asked her how I was supposed to go out there and tell everyone that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon was true when I had never had any kind of life-changing revelation that it was so. She asked me if there was any way she could convince me that those things were not true. I immediately responded, “Well of course not.” She said, “There is your answer.”
That took me by complete surprise. It took months of mulling that over before I became comfortable with how this could be possible. How could I know something without having a grand experience from God telling me it was true? Eventually I came to realize that I had had experiences, and lots of them, just not the big grand ones some people talk about having.
I have had hundreds of times in my life when I read from the scriptures and my heart “burned” within me and I knew that what I read was true. Actually, what I felt was an overwhelming sense of gratitude for what I had just received; I don’t know how to explain it better than that. There have been times when I was teaching and words would pour into my head that wouldn’t leave until I had said them, only to learn new things and answer other’s questions without knowing ahead of time what their questions were. I even had one experience in teaching a young man on my mission where the Spirit was so strong that our conversation became mental communication. I was teaching and as soon as a thought came into his mind it entered mine and I was able to answer his question before he could get it out. This went on for more than an hour and a half. It was the most pure and most glorious teaching experience I have ever had.
There have been years when I wondered if the Lord was even aware that I existed, then something would happen that would show me quite plainly that He was acutely aware of what was going on in my life. It seems that sometimes He just wants me to make my decisions and see where it takes me. When I get too far off course He helps me do a course correct and I move on.
I don’t know all things, but I do know the most important things. The three most important things I can know is that God lives and loves me, Joseph Smith was a true and living prophet, and the Book of Mormon is a real and true book of scripture. With these three pieces of information I can navigate everything else that comes up as a question in my life. Fortunately the Lord has promised that He will reveal these things to each of His children personally so they do not have any need to stumble through life blindly listening to contradicting voices in the world. Once we have received a witness of these truths, all other voices fade into the distance, and the road ahead becomes more clear. It becomes easier to tell the difference between right and wrong, truth and error, honesty and deception. It becomes easier, it doesn’t erase the possibility to be deceived. There are very few who have gotten close enough to the Lord to be able to not be deceived. I have met a few like that, and it is exciting to know that it is possible.
How is it done? In the Book of Mormon the prophet Moroni, the one who sealed up the record and later delivered it to Joseph Smith, wrote that there is a way for anyone to know if what he and his father, Mormon, had written was true. In Moroni 10: 3-7, Moroni is writing to the part of his country that has just committed complete genocide on his part of the people. He is telling them that this record, which was made from all the records of his people since they arrived in the America’s a thousand years before are true and this is how they can learn it for themselves.
3 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.
4 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.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
6 And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.
7 And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever.
Translation Let’s work backwards for a moment. In verse 7 Moroni is reminding us that the Lord has always shown forth his power based on the faith of his followers, not to get followers, but to reward followers for their faith. Important point.
In verse 6 Moroni is reminding the readers of his record (the Book of Mormon) that nothing that is good will deny Christ, because all good things come from God. So if this is from God it is a good thing, and will lead to doing good, which is God’s work.
Verse 5 reminds us all that the role of the Holy Ghost in the Godhead is to be a teacher, a testifier of truth, wherever it is, and in whatever form it appears. All truth comes from God, for He is a God of truth.
Verse 4 is the instructions for the test. When we pray we do it in the name of Jesus Christ. So when we approach God to find out if what is written in this book is true, we ask in the name of Jesus Christ if these things are true. The stipulations for your answer are as follows: you must be asking with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ that he will give you an answer to your question. This means that approaching God and daring him to contradict your doubts is not good enough. When we go to the Lord it must be as a humble supplicant seeking knowledge at the hands of God. Under those conditions He promises that you will have the truth given to you through the power of the Holy Ghost, who testifies of all truth, and is there specifically to teach you to truth so you know how to live your life and be happy.
Finally, in verse 3 he is reminding us that a large part of prayer is the recognition first and foremost of all what the Lord has already done for us. He even recommends that we spend some time pondering or thinking deeply about these things so that we approach the Lord in a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving, which generally translates into a state of humility.
End result Every person who has ever joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should have gone through this process before joining. Everyone who was born into the church has or will have to, at some point, go through this process to learn personally the truth of the Book of Mormon. If the Book of Mormon is a true book of scripture, given to us from God, then Joseph Smith, who translated the book is the Lord’s prophet. If you receive a testimony that Joseph is a prophet then the book he translated is a true book of Scripture, because it was written at the hands of a prophet. Everything else falls into line with these key pieces of knowledge. The sense of God’s love flows from either piece of knowledge because you will feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the blessings God has given you.
It does take some effort to know if what the Latter-day Saint missionaries tell you is true, but it has been tried and proven to work by literally tens of millions of people, so it can work for you as well. For some people it takes attending church for a number of weeks, some extra reading, or even paying tithing for a few months before they receive their witness, but the witness always comes to those who sincerely want to know and are willing to take whatever answer the Lord gives them, and when He gives it in His own due time.
I know these things to be true. I have done all that I have told you to do, and I have received my own personal witnesses, over, and over, and over again that this is God’s church, with His authority to do His work. And yes, I’m a Latter-day Saint, and I am happy.