I sat in my Christian History classroom last year, waiting for class to start. My professor strode into the room, shut the door, gave us his typical staredown, and asked us what we had thought of General Conference the weekend before.
At BYU-Idaho, this wasn’t a strange question. Even some of my non-religious classes had discussed this same question over my years at the university.
So the answers started. People liked this or that talk, were excited about the new temples. Then someone brought up the change from a three-hour block to a two-hour block and the new Come, Follow Me studies.
As several people in the class expressed agreement that the changes were exciting, my teacher stopped us in our tracks. He gave us another staredown, then said, “These changes don’t matter.”
We all gaped at him. Our religion teacher telling us that changes in the policies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints didn’t matter? Unheard of.
Then he continued, “Guys, these changes don’t matter unless we actually apply these changes. If we don’t apply these changes, will it matter that the Church made the changes? No. But, these changes could make big changes in our lives if we make them part of our lives. So, do the home study with your family. Make it a priority. Then it will matter.”
I’ve thought a lot about what my professor said last year. And, though what I’ve written here may not be exactly the words he said, it’s correct enough to convey what he was saying.
I love General Conference. If you follow the Seeking Christ page on Facebook, then you know that I make a big deal about prepping for Conference, and I hype it up a lot.
But when I think back to what my teacher said last year, I have to agree with him – and maybe take it a little further.
It isn’t just changes to Church policies that don’t matter if we don’t apply them. It’s also the teachings we hear from our prophets, apostles, and church officers that need to be applied in our daily lives.
If we don’t take their teachings and use them every day, then it doesn’t matter much that they taught those truths. It makes no difference in our lives if we hear what they say and forget about it a week later.
Take Teachings to Heart
The teachings of our leaders are inspiring and exciting. Every time I listen to them, I find something that I could be improving on. And I hear so many warnings too.
Most of all, I hear love in the voices of those who speak in General Conference. They care about us more than we realize because they understand how much our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ love us as well.
But how do we go from enjoying their words to applying them faithfully in our lives?
There are three (very broad) steps we need to help us build a testimony. First, we need to be taught truth by those who know truth.
Elder Ulisses Soares spoke in April about Philip and the Ethiopian who needed help understanding Isaiah. Then Elder Soares said,
We are sometimes like the Ethiopian – we need the help of a faithful and inspired teacher…Elder Ulisses Soares, “How Can I Understand?” April 2019
If we have never come across truth, we need to be taught it. Whether we learn of truth as children or as adults, this remains true.
Second, we need to learn and apply truth on our own, without the help of others. Elder David A. Bednar said,
Our personal responsibility is to learn what we should learn, to live as we know we should live, and to become who the Master would have us become.Elder David A. Bednar, “Prepared to Obtain Every Needful Thing,” April 2019
This second step is arguably the most essential because it requires us to use our faith and grow our faith, not just sit and listen.
As Alma said in the Book of Mormon,
27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.Alma 32:27
The use of our faith is what builds our testimony and assures us that what we believe is, in fact, truth.
The third step, and this seemed to be a major focus today, is sharing the truth with others, AKA missionary work. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean serving a full-time mission. Honestly, even having served a mission, I feel that most missionary work happens outside of full-time missions, though it is more of a focus as a full-time missionary.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said this various times, but even today he said that we need to share the gospel in “normal, natural ways.” He doesn’t get specific because those “normal, natural ways” of sharing the gospel can vary from person to person. For me, writing these blog posts is one way I feel normal and natural sharing the gospel. For you, it might be something completely different.
Sharing the gospel with others helps them to learn truth but also helps affirm to us that we do believe what we claim to believe. It’s a win-win situation.
These three steps can build our testimonies. The first step is one that I think many of us are good at. Steps two and three can be more of a struggle at times. But all three must be used for us to make the changes we need in our individual lives and to build our faith continually.
So how do we take these broad steps and apply them personally?
Keep the Change
A few days before I came home from my mission, I remember talking with another sister missionary who was also about to go home. We expressed to each other that we were anxious about returning home because we didn’t want to lose the progress we had made as missionaries.
As we spoke, we agreed that we would find ways to “keep the change.” We wrote down several things that we wanted to do to keep growing spiritually. And, thinking back on those things now, I think I actually did pretty well at doing the things I said I’d do, so I guess the plan worked.
The reason I tell you about this is because we can do the same kind of thing every General Conference. It’s great to listen and take notes during Conference, but if we really want to keep or make the change, then it’s what we do after Conference that matters.
Take some time to yourself over the next couple of days and figure out the best way to make or keep the change. Maybe you could set up a calendar to track your progress. Or list the goals you have for the next six months based on what you heard in General Conference this weekend. You could even find an accountability partner so you can help each other stay on track with making and keeping change.
I’d love to hear the ideas you have to make or keep the change. How you set it up, why one approach works better for you than others.
And, later, I’d love to hear how this works for you. You don’t need to share details, but sharing how applying the teachings of our prophets and leaders to your life has benefitted you would strengthen not only you, but also everyone who hears your testimony.
The three steps of testimony build on each other in a cycle. Sometimes you’re the hearer gaining strength and truth from others, sometimes you’re learning on your own, and sometimes you are sharing the truth with others who need your strength.
Whichever step you are on today, give it your best. And don’t be afraid to move to the next step, even if you don’t feel ready. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, will support our efforts to build testimony and make changes. Trust Him, and He’ll help you with every step.