Answers to Prayer: Line upon line vs. lightning bolts
I am not a convert to the Church, but I, like everyone else, have had to become converted, and to gain my own surety about the path I am on as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For me, that has been a gradual process, and can not be traced to a one-time event in my life. I have often compared this process to a bucket being filled a drop at a time. I have never really had a once-in-a-lifetime epiphany — yet, I know with an unshakable assurance that the gospel is true. Drops are added to my bucket with every experience I have with the Spirit. Most of those experiences are simple: A talk or a lesson touches me; I’m moved by a hymn; I gain a new insight while reading my scriptures. Nearly thirty years of such experiences have left me with a testimony that is my most prized possession.
When I was young, however, I was bothered at times that I had no special, one-time experience that I thought I needed to be able to say I really knew the Church is true. I think I was especially bothered that I had gone through the “steps” of “Moroni’s promise” (read, ponder, and pray) and not “received an answer” (as if, perhaps, it was something to accomplish, some concrete event to check off my list). After all, some people did have such experiences — and, I confess, I envied them. (I confess that sometimes I still do!)
How I wish I would have President Boyd K. Packer’s words to help me realize that answers often come in simple, subtle ways:
When I first read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover, I read the promise that if I “would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if [the things I had read were] true; and if [I would] ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he [would] manifest the truth of it unto [me], by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moro. 10:4). I tried to follow those instructions, as I understood them.
If I expected a glorious manifestation to come at once as an overpowering experience, it did not happen. Nevertheless, it felt good, and I began to believe.
(Boyd K. Packer, “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ — Plain and Precious Things,” Ensign, May 2005, 6)
My young heart would have appreciated knowing that I was in good company — one of the Lord’s apostles hadn’t had a lightning-bolt experience when he first embarked on his spiritual journey, either!
My experience has been that a testimony does not burst upon us suddenly. Rather it grows, as Alma said, from a seed of faith. “It will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow” (Alma 32:30). If you nourish it, it will grow; and if you do not nourish it, it will wither (see Alma 32:37–41).
Do not be disappointed if you have read and reread and yet have not received a powerful witness. You may be somewhat like the disciples spoken of in the Book of Mormon who were filled with the power of God in great glory “and they knew it not” (3 Ne. 9:20).
Isn’t there something in these words that might help my now-adult heart, too? Is it possible that sometimes I expect answers to prayers too soon, or in a way that is too dramatic? Is it possible that sometimes I have received an answer, but simply don’t recognize how the Spirit is speaking to me?
Don’t we all at times struggle, feeling that perhaps we aren’t receiving the answers we seek in the way we want them? Perhaps we second-guess answers we have already received because of trials or doctrinal doubts or conflicting voices that pound around us — all making it hard to remember and hear and feel the Spirit’s sweet peace.
I feel President Packer inviting us to hold on at times like that. I think his words apply not only to those desiring a testimony of the Book of Mormon, but to anyone who just desperately needs an answer. I hear him pleading with us to press forward in faith. Perhaps these are times we might benefit from the counsel President Packer was given. He relates:
We once had a major decision to make. When our prayers left us uncertain, I went to see Elder Harold B. Lee. He counseled us to proceed. Sensing that I was still very unsettled, he said, “The problem with you is you want to see the end from the beginning.” Then he quoted this verse from the Book of Mormon, “Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith” (Ether 12:6).
He added, “You must learn to walk a few steps ahead into the darkness, and then the light will turn on and go before you.” That was a life-changing experience….
When we face those moments of doubt or despair, let us press forward in faith. Let us remember what the Spirit has felt like in the past, and hope for that feeling in the future. Let us also remember that answers and divine direction often distill slowly, as insights come and things in our lives fall into place or just “feel good.”
The older I get, the more grateful I am for the fact that truth usually doesn’t come in the form of spiritual lightning bolts. The line-upon-line, drop-by-drop nature of the process keeps me seeking and searching and feeling — and, in turn (and, sometimes, in time) being filled with deliciously sweet light, joy, and peace.
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