How does Faith in Christ, having a sincere heart and real intent help me receive answers to my questions?

Brad Porter, Speech given in Lehi Cedar Hollow 4th Ward, Feb. 25, 2018 (edited for print).

Why Is It Important To Have Questions and Want to Understand More?

  • Doctrinal Mastery Core Document Seminaries and Institutes: “Sometimes we may discover new information or have questions regarding the doctrine, practices, or history of the Church that seem difficult to understand. Asking questions and seeking answers is a vital part of our effort to learn truth. Some of the questions that come to our minds may be inspired by the Holy Ghost. Inspired questions should be considered gifts from God that provide opportunities for us to increase our understanding and to strengthen our assurance that the Lord is willing to teach us. Whatever the source of our questions may be, we have been blessed with the ability to think and reason and to have the Lord’s influence expand our minds and deepen our understanding. The attitude and intent with which we ask questions and seek answers will greatly affect our ability to learn through the Holy Ghost.”

  • DC 88:78-80 “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain to the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; … That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.”

  • Jacob 4:6 “Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken…” The rest of the verse can be summarized with: because our faith is unshakable we are better able to serve others.

  • DC 76:5-9 “For thus saith the Lord–I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end… And to them I will reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom … And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.

    • Example: Sherem and Jacob. “And he had hope to shake me from the faith, notwithstanding the many revelations and the many things which I had seen concerning these things; for I truly had seen angels, and they had ministered unto me. And also, I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word, from time to time; wherefore, I could not be shaken.”
  • Doctrinal Mastery Core Document Seminaries and Institutes: “Building a foundation upon Jesus Christ—which includes coming to understand, believe, and live according to His doctrine—will deepen our conversion and commitment as His disciples, protect us against the influences of the adversary, and help us bless the lives of others.

Real intent is essential to the learning process

Nephi to Laman and Lemuel:

1 Ne. 15:9-11. “Have you inquired of the Lord? … We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.” They did not inquire because they did not believe they would receive. “How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? … Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said? –If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.”

Compare Nephi’s language with Moroni’s:

Moroni 10:4 - 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.

  • eye single > comprehendeth all things, D&C 88:67
    • “If your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.” Part of having real intent includes having an eye single to the glory of God.
  • sanctify > eye single
    • “Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.”
    • Having an eye single to the glory of God requires Sanctification, and Sanctification implies exercising faith in Christ through repentance and obedience.
  • Obedience: “the Spirit enlighteneth every man … that hearkeneth”, D&C 88:46
    • “and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.”
  • The converse of obedience has the opposite effect of enlightenment:
    • “treated lightly” > “minds … darkened”, D&C 84:54
      • “And your minds in times past have become darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received”. If we want to be enlightened, we must not treat lightly things we have already received.
      • D&C 93 And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.
  • Summary:
    • Obedience and exercising faith in Christ with repentance leads to sanctification.
    • Sanctification is required to having an eye single to the glory of God.
    • Having an eye single to the glory of God is part of having real intent, and results in understanding (comprehending all things).

So How does Faith in Christ, having a sincere heart and real intent help me receive answers to my questions?

If we have a sincere heart and real intent, we will show our faith in Christ by being obedient to the portion of His commandments that has been given to us, and real intent implies we are honestly willing to be obedient to additional revelation. The word “receive” in Moroni 10:4 when Moroni says “And when ye shall receive these things”, implies more than just reading them. In other words, and for example, if you want to know if the Book of Mormon is true, begin to live some of the principles contained in it as you become familiar with them, and then commit yourself to live according to all the truth of the Book of Mormon implies if you do receive a witness. The implication of the truth of the Book of Mormon is committed discipleship in His Kingdom on earth, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Not only does faith in Christ and a sincere heart help you to receive answers, it is essential to receiving them.

Read excerpts from Section: “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge” in Doctrinal Mastery Core Document

https://www.lds.org/bc/content/ldsorg/manual/seminary/13223-bookmarked-doc-mastery-core-doc.pdf

The Doctrinal Mastery Core Document (2016) was a suggested reference when the topic was assigned. The following section, quoted from the document, is supportive of the previous sections of this speech and has additional insights.

Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge

Because our Heavenly Father loves us and wants us to progress toward becoming like Him, He has encouraged us to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118). In our search for truth, we can trust Him completely, relying on His wisdom, His love, and His power to teach and bless us. God knows all things and is the source of all truth (see Mosiah 4:9). He has promised to reveal truth to our minds and hearts through the Holy Ghost if we will diligently seek Him (see D&C 8:2–3).

To help us, Heavenly Father has taught us how to acquire spiritual knowledge. He has established the conditions we must follow in order to gain such knowledge. His divinely ordained pattern requires that we have an honest desire to know the truth (see Moroni 10:4–5) and are willing to live according to that which God has revealed (see John 7:17). Our sincere desire will lead us to seek truth through prayer (see James 1:5–6; 2 Nephi 32:8–9) and a serious study of the word of God (see 2 Timothy 3:15–17; 2 Nephi 32:3).

Sometimes we may discover new information or have questions regarding the doctrine, practices, or history of the Church that seem difficult to understand. Asking questions and seeking answers is a vital part of our effort to learn truth. Some of the questions that come to our minds may be inspired by the Holy Ghost. Inspired questions should be considered gifts from God that provide opportunities for us to increase our understanding and to strengthen our assurance that the Lord is willing to teach us. Whatever the source of our questions may be, we have been blessed with the ability to think and reason and to have the Lord’s influence expand our minds and deepen our understanding. The attitude and intent with which we ask questions and seek answers will greatly affect our ability to learn through the Holy Ghost.

The following three principles can guide us as we seek to learn and understand eternal truth and resolve questions or issues: Act in faith, examine concepts and questions with an eternal perspective, and seek further understanding through divinely appointed sources.

1. Act in Faith

We act in faith when we choose to trust God and turn to Him first through sincere prayer, a study of His teachings, and obedience to His commandments.

As we seek to develop our understanding and to resolve concerns, it is important that we rely on the testimony that we already have of Jesus Christ, the Restoration of His gospel, and the teachings of His ordained prophets. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught: “When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes ” (“Lord, I Believe,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2013, 94). The Lord Himself has invited us to “look unto [Him] in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36).

During times when we may not immediately find answers to our questions, it is helpful to remember that although Heavenly Father has revealed all that is necessary for our salvation, He has not yet revealed all truth. As we continue to seek for answers, we must live by faith—trusting that we will eventually receive the answers we seek (see Proverbs 3:5–6; Ether 12:6). As we are faithful to the truth and light we have already received, we will receive more. Answers to our questions and prayers often come “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30).

2. Examine Concepts and Questions with an Eternal Perspective

To examine doctrinal concepts, questions, and social issues with an eternal perspective, we consider them in the context of the plan of salvation and the teachings of the Savior. We seek the help of the Holy Ghost in order to see things as the Lord sees them. This allows us to reframe the question (to see the question differently) and view ideas based on the Lord’s standard of truth rather than accepting the world’s premise or assumptions (see 1 Corinthians 2:5, 9–11). We can do this by asking questions such as “What do I already know about Heavenly Father, His plan, and how He deals with His children?” and “What gospel teachings relate to or clarify this concept or issue?”

Even questions that relate to historical events may need to be examined with an eternal perspective. As we stay anchored to our trust in our Heavenly Father and His plan of salvation, we are able to see issues more clearly. It may also help to examine historical questions in the proper historical context by considering the culture and norms of the time period rather than imposing current perspectives and attitudes.

It is important to remember that historical details do not carry the saving power of ordinances, covenants, and doctrine. To be distracted by less significant details at the expense of missing the unfolding miracle of the Restoration is like spending time analyzing a gift box and ignoring the wonder of the gift itself. Listen carefully and prayerfully: Listen attentively before you respond, seeking to clarify and understand the actual questions they are asking. Thoughtfully seek to understand the true intent of their questions and their feelings and beliefs.

3. Seek Further Understanding through Divinely Appointed Sources

As part of the Lord’s appointed process for obtaining spiritual knowledge, He has established sources through which He reveals truth and guidance to His children. These sources include the light of Christ, the Holy Ghost, the scriptures, parents, and Church leaders. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—the Lord’s prophets upon the earth today—are a vital source of truth. The Lord has chosen and ordained these individuals to speak for Him.

We can also learn truth through other trustworthy sources. However, sincere seekers of truth should be wary of unreliable sources of information. We live in a time when many “call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). Satan is the father of lies and seeks to distort truth and persuade us to turn away from the Lord and His appointed servants. As we turn to the Lord’s divinely appointed sources for answers and direction, we can be blessed to discern between truth and error. Learning to recognize and avoid unreliable sources can protect us from misinformation and from those who seek to destroy faith.

Helping Others Acquire Spiritual Knowledge

When others come to us asking questions or investigating Church doctrine, practices, or history, how might we best assist them in their quest for truth? The following are some of the ways we can help them:

Teach and testify of gospel truths: Share applicable teachings from the scriptures and modern prophets and how they have made a difference in your life. Help those with whom you speak examine or reframe their questions in the context of the gospel and the plan of salvation.

Invite them to act in faith: Remember that the Lord requires us to seek spiritual knowledge for ourselves. We must therefore invite others to act in faith through prayer, obedience to the commandments, and diligent study of the word of God, using divinely appointed sources, particularly the Book of Mormon. If applicable, invite them to remember experiences they may have had when they felt the Holy Ghost and to hold fast to eternal truths they have learned until additional knowledge comes.

Follow through: Offer to search for answers, and then follow through by sharing what you learn. You could also search for answers together. Express confidence in the Lord’s promise to provide personal revelation.

Related references: Jeremiah 1:4–5; Amos 3:7; Matthew 5:14–16; Matthew 16:15–19; John 15:16; John 17:3; Ephesians 2:19–20; Ephesians 4:11–14; 2 Nephi 2:27; Mosiah 18:8–10; 3 Nephi 18:15, 20–21; D&C 1:37–38; D&C 18:15–16; D&C 21:4–6 Related doctrinal topics: The Godhead: The Holy Ghost; The Atonement of Jesus Christ: Faith in Jesus Christ; Prophets and Revelation; Commandments

New Mormon History and Invigorating Faith

The following is a personal experience attempting to address some of the same concerns the Doctrinal Mastery Core Document addresses.

(Excerpts from a blog at http://www.porterweb.org/brad/)

When I was in graduate school, I was invited to join a church history study group. A few friends and I would get together and read various articles on Church History. Since I had really enjoyed Church History, this was of interest to me. During this course there were some articles that challenged my previous perceptions of church history. Typically, this involved actions by a church leader which didn’t fit into the historical framework I had mentally built around them.

What do we do with this kind of information? How do we file it away in our consciousness? How do we reconcile it with things we know for certain already? I found most, if not all, of what might be considered “challenging” historical information can be categorized into one the following three possibilities:

  1. The historical information may be passed down incorrectly, out of context, or invented.
  2. The information is correct, and there is something I do not understand.
  3. The information is correct, and the individuals involved were wrong, acted inappropriately, or at best exercised poor judgement.

How do we deal with this information? The answer for me is the following. I consider the things I know for certain. They may be few, but they are sure. Among the things I know for certain is knowledge that has been confirmed to my soul by the Spirit of God. Everything else must be reconciled with this knowledge. Given this, I came to the realization that I didn’t care which of the three categories historical evidence fit into from a personal religious perspective. I’m interested, yes, but simply because I want to be educated, not because it could challenge my faith.

Some would be troubled by this approach, particularly when it comes to category 3. Can’t we expect that prophets and other church leaders have reached a point in their lives where they are beyond saying anything in error, or acting in error either personally, or with regards to church administration? When I was 20 I might have said, “absolutely”. But the course of life has a way of tempering our thinking.

None of us are anywhere near the perfect life of the Savior. Should we really demand that our leaders must be so much better than we are? Elder Neil Anderson put it this way: “The leaders of the Church are honest but imperfect men. Remember the words of Moroni: ‘Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father … ; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.’”[1] By not imposing our own standard of perfection on our leaders, we are realistic and are able to learn from their imperfections. This process builds a maturity that is the result of learned truth - knowledge of things as they are. This learned truth makes us wiser, allowing us to build faith, rather than become disaffected.

A lot of time passed since my experience in graduate school, but I was very happy to hear President Deiter F. Uchtdorf put words to my experience four years ago in general conference[4].

“Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history … there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.”

“Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.”

“Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the “facts” really mean. A question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others.”

“And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.”

“God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes.”

“It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true.”

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”[5]

This is the first time I recall hearing language like this in General Conference. Richard E. Bennett, Professor of Church History at Brigham Young University, said something similar regarding history at an interfaith dialogue in Nauvoo, IL in 2006.

“… the intellectualization of Church history and the rise of what many term the “New Mormon History” have changed the intellectual landscape of our past and have invigorated the faith of some while sorely testing it in others”.[6]

I did find my faith invigorated. Hopefully, some of the thoughts above describe how to get past “sorely testing” and suspicion, and move on to “invigorated”.

References:

[1] Neil L. Anderson, Trial of Your Faith, Ensign Nov. 2012. (quoting Mormon 9:31).

[2] Dallin H. Oaks, Testimony, Apr. 2008 General Conference

[3] Brad Porter, Our place in the The History of the World, www.porterweb.org/brad (Some things that are more important to me at this time than investing huge amounts of time in language, archaeology, and history.)

[4] October 2013 General Conference.

[5] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Oct. 2013 General Conference

[6] Richard E. Bennett, From Calvary to Cumorah: What Mormon History Means to Me, The Religious Educator, Vol 8, No 3, 2007.

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