Be Not Afraid, Only Believe
The Role of Faith and Leadership in Our Lives
It is my privilege to work regularly with wonderful local church leaders. It is my witness that these are men and women who love you and are absolutely trying their very best to serve you with authority and power. Their authority comes because they have been set apart with priesthood authority restored to the Prophet Joseph and carefully handed down in a line of authority for almost 200 years. These individuals have been given power through the grace of Jesus Christ whom they earnestly try to follow. They listen with their hearts and minds for the subtle inspirations of the Holy Ghost, who only repeats exactly what our Heavenly Father would have them say.
The fact that all three members of the Godhead are interested in every single one of us is wonderful to think about. They truly are interested in the details of our lives, just like you are interested in the details of the lives of your family members. And when we follow the guidance we receive from them, miracles happen. There are some things that I’ve seen over the years that cannot be explained in any other way except as a miraculous manifestation of divine intervention. It is humbling to see these miracles occur all around us, and I am grateful to be a witness of it.
Today I am going to talk about one of the first principles of our religion: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And when I say first principles, it doesn’t mean that it just comes first in a list, it means that it is the most fundamental part of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint. It is a quality or characteristic that permeates everything we do and everything we hope to become.
Because if we demonstrate faith, we will constantly find ourselves repenting and worthily participating in priesthood ordinances which will enable us, because of the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus, to return to the presence of God. That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and those are its first principles. Those are the things that matter most.
It was John Mark, the missionary companion of both Peter and Paul who wrote these inspiring words in his testimony:
But believeth in what? The most important thing we can ever believe in is Jesus Christ. Some believe in scientific knowledge — things learned through empirical evidence like seeing, touching, tasting, hearing, and feeling, or through intellectual reasoning. But can a belief in human reasoning forgive our sins, resurrect us, or bring forth a planet into existence just by uttering the command? No.
Can human reasoning raise someone from the dead, turn water into wine, or seal a family together for eternity? No.
Can it allow a young adult young to dictate a translation of a 531-page, 273,725 word book in about 65 days? No.
Unlike Joseph, I’ve graduated from college. I’ve also spent years studying my profession. And while in my 20s I wrote a 400-page, 143,000 word book. But it took two years of scholarly research and six months of writing just to get a rough draft of it. There weren’t any rough drafts of the Book of Mormon, which is far more complex, far more meaningful, far more symbolic, far more expansive, and far more transformative, and — I would argue — has affected more readers in the last two centuries than any other book.
Can faith in man-made governments solve society’s ailments. History tell us it never has before.
Can faith in technology heal a family that has been torn apart because of things it supplied, such as pornography, video games, gambling, movies, television, sporting events, and other, so-called “entertainment.”
Can faith in our schools and universities educate us to the point where we can move mountains with a single word or cause water to gush from a rock?
Can any sort of faith in money or power or strength or intellect help us return to the presence of God?
In a 1994 General Conference, in a speech titled, “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Elder Oaks taught:
It is only faith in the Jesus Christ that can do those things. He is the only one that can help us at this point. He is the only one that will bring peace to the earth. He is the only one that makes any of our ordinances effectual. He is the only way our prayers reach our Heavenly Father. He was the only child of God who never disobeyed God. He was the only one willing to pay the price for our sins. He was the only one capable of bearing that burden. He is the source of all that is good, all that is light, all that is truth.
How Can We Not Have Faith in Christ?
I’ll tell you how. We lose our faith if we don’t exercise it. If we stop being faithful. If we stop doing the things Jesus asked us to do. If we start fearing what others may think if we outwardly display our faith. If we start trusting the physical “arm of flesh” more than we should.
People who are faithful — people who are full of faith — often do things that people who believe in the philosophies of men find to be ridiculous, or foolish, or delusional.
Things like praying often to someone you can’t see or hear.
Things like regularly reading and re-reading and pondering and studying scriptural texts written by our progenitors.
Things like wholeheartedly following modern prophets and their representatives.
Things like fasting each month.
Things like happily paying tithes and offerings.
Things like sacrificing your personal play time and spending it doing things that serve our brothers and sisters.
Things like making sure you’re at your meetings on time and are eager to participate.
Things like avoiding the circumstances that tempt you beyond your ability to withstand them.
Things like avoiding specific foods and drinks and anything else that leads to addiction.
Things like indexing thousands of names or performing ordinances for those who are dead.
It includes not getting angry at those who don’t drive as courteously as you do. Not saying any unkind word about anyone, even when they aren’t present. It means obeying the laws of the land. It means defending the weak, feeding the hungry, mourning with the sad, strengthening the weak kneed, carrying the burden of others—and doing all of these things wherever you’re at and in the most inconvenient of times. And do it all with a smile.
There’s no way we could consistently do all of those things if we didn’t have faith in Jesus Christ. And there is no way we could do any of those things as we ride the roller coaster of life — with all of its ups and downs and thrills and screams — without His help.
We simply cannot do it on our own. We are, by nature, carnal and sensual beings that tend to degrade, destroy, and consume more than we enhance, build, and conserve. We truly have to rely on Him. The sooner we do that, the better.
Jesus is willing to be yoked to us, to carry the burden we could not carry on our own. But, when we are yoked to him, we need to sacrifice our own will, just like he did, in order to serve with him and serve like him.
When we do that, when we eschew self-centeredness, self-righteousness, self-importance, self-aggrandizement, self-deception, and even self-sufficiency — when we do that, he will make up the difference and give us strength, give us talents, give us spiritual gifts, give us understanding, give us patience, and yes, give us even more faith.
But we have to make the first move. Which takes faith. Because faith is the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Let me remind you of something Elder Bednar taught us in the April 2008 General Conference in a speech called “Ask in Faith.” He said:
Faith in Christ leads us to do good things which increases our spiritual power.
The Parable of the Faithful Seedling
This relationship between faith and action is not always immediate or apparent, much like the growth of a seedling into a tree. To illustrate this, let us consider a parable which I call, “The Parable of the Faithful Seedling.”
Consider the story of a small seedling in a vast forest. The forest was full of towering, mature trees, and the seedling was in their mighty shadows. This seedling represented our faith in its initial stages: small, fragile, and seemingly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Despite the overwhelming shadow of the forest, the seedling had an innate desire to grow towards the sunlight, its source of life. Just as our faith instinctively turns towards the light of Christ, our source of spiritual nourishment. The seedling had no certainty of the sun’s presence, as it was often shrouded by the towering trees and the ever-changing clouds. Yet, it persisted in reaching out for the light, faithfully believing it was there. Similarly, we may not always perceive Christ’s presence in our lives, especially when our path seems overshadowed by life’s challenges. Yet, we continue to reach out in faith, assured of His enduring presence and grace.
As days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, the seedling continued its journey. Its roots went deeper into the soil, drawing strength and sustenance. Its tiny stem became a trunk, and its tender shoots became branches. The small seedling grew, despite the odds, into a magnificent tree. Not only did it reach the sunlight, but it also began to provide shade and shelter to others in its own right.
This is the nature of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It begins small and faces many obstacles. But if nurtured, it grows into a force that not only sustains us but also provides strength and shelter to others around us. Like the tree, our faith, nurtured by the grace of Christ, can become a source of power, resilience, and spiritual strength.
So, just as the seedling grows into a tree through persistent faith in the presence of sunlight, our faith in Christ can lead us to perform good deeds, increase our spiritual power, and remove our fears and anxieties about our futures as well as the future of our brothers and sisters.
The Power of Faith
Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy:
Faith in Christ also gives us confidence of our standing before God. It allows us to take advantage of the atoning sacrifice of Christ and use his promise of forgiveness if we repent. And as we repent, we feel feelings of forgiveness, and miraculously lose the feelings of shame, and regret, and sorrow.
What a wonderful gift. But it does cost something. Most of it has been paid for by the Savior, but we have to offer something as well. Here’s what Elder Neal Maxwell taught us in a 1991 conference address called, “Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds.” He said:
I don’t know about you, but my observations of the people in our stake around me have led me this conclusion:
That most of us are remaining true and faithful to our covenants, including the mandate to watch over each other with the pure love of Christ. Time after time, I’ve observed someone coming to the aid of another who is weary or wounded from these struggles, giving away their own supply of healing balm, even though they have wounds of their own that need tending. That seems to be exactly what Jesus would have us do.
I’ve also observed that those who have the most spiritual strength always seem to have these three habits in their lives: daily prayer, daily scripture study, and more than once-a-week association with their fellow saints in chapels, temples, and homes.
Now, just in case you might be feeling a little guilty because you still have some improvements to make, let me conclude with a thought from Elder Richard G. Scott from his 2010 Conference talk, “The Transforming Power of Faith and Character.” He said:
I testify that more power, strength, and confidence is available to each of us than we can imagine. That there is absolutely no limit to the amount of good that we can do or the good that we can become, when we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and are faithful to his invitations. May we all pray for more faith, and then act in more faithful ways.