I spoke in church on Sunday. Figured I might as well post it here as well. 😊
I’d like to quickly share one of the most heartbreaking stories in scripture.
After his experience on the Mount of Olives, Jesus is betrayed and taken away. Peter follows the procession to the high priest’s house, sits down amongst the people, waiting to see what will happen.
In Luke 22 it says, “But a certain maid beheld [Peter] … and said, This man was also with him. And he denied … saying, Woman, I know him not. … Another saw him, and said, Thou art also of them. And Peter said, Man, I am not. … Another confidently affirmed, … Of a truth this fellow also was with him: … And Peter said, Man, I know not what thou sayest. And immediately, while he yet spake, the cock crew. And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, … and … went out, and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:56-62)
How did Peter react to what I’m sure seemed to him like a major failure?
Peter had a choice. He could let this traumatic experience derail him and quit, or he could use this as fuel to take steps to increase his faith and deepen his conversion. We know from scripture that Peter chose the latter. He became a rock-solid servant of God.
You and I have been, and are still in, our own traumatic experience of sorts. Due to this pandemic, our lives have been upended and we have been temporarily cut off from much of what we love.
So how will we react? Will we allow this to derail our spiritual progress? Or will we choose Peter’s path?
As a Bishopric and a Ward Council, we have been discussing this question: “What am I doing to deepen my conversion and increase my faith?”
For the sake of time in this talk, I will refer to increasing faith and deepening conversion as two sides of the same coin and I will just use deepening conversion to describe both.
So, what is conversion?
President Marion G. Romney said that: “Converted means to turn from one belief or course of action to another. …a spiritual and moral change. Converted implies not merely mental acceptance of Jesus and his teachings but also a motivating faith in him and his gospel. A faith which works a transformation...”
He further explained that: “Membership in the Church and conversion are not necessarily synonymous. Being converted and having a testimony are not necessarily the same thing either. A testimony comes when the Holy Ghost gives the earnest seeker a witness of the truth. A moving testimony vitalizes faith. That is, it induces repentance... Conversion is the fruit or the reward for repentance and obedience.”
Let me put this process in my own words:
We exercise our faith in eternal principles. We feel the spirit of God. This gives us spiritual knowledge, or a testimony, that those principles are right or true. As we act on that spiritual knowledge we are changed. This change is conversion. As we continue to act, our conversion deepens.
Let us look at an example from scripture:
In the Book of Mormon, we read about how the sons of Mosiah felt compelled to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Lamanite people. We learn that through their efforts, the Spirit of God touched the hearts of many of the Lamanites and “thousands were brought to the knowledge of the Lord … and were converted” (Alma 23). And how do we know they were converted? Because they took action. They changed who they were. They went as far as to change their name to the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, and “they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.” (Alma 24) We learn that their conversion was so strong that they “never did fall away” (Alma 23).
As members of Christ’s church is this not what we all want? To be so deeply converted that we also never fall away.
Elder Neil L. Anderson in his talk “Faith is Not by Chance, but by Choice” reminded us how important this is. He used the word faith, but I’m going to replace it with the word “conversion.”
He said, “Your conversion will grow not by chance, but by choice. How we live our lives increases or diminishes our conversion. Prayer, obedience, honesty, purity of thought and deed, and unselfishness increase conversion. Without these, conversion diminishes. … Be relentless in protecting your conversion.”
I would like to highlight 4 ways each of us can deepen our conversion:
(1) Immerse yourself in the scriptures
I found this quote from Ezra Taft Benson: a couple of months ago, and I just love it. He said: “Often we spend great effort in trying to increase the activity levels in our stakes. We work diligently to raise the percentages of those attending sacrament meetings. We labor to get a higher percentage of our young men on missions. We strive to improve the numbers of those marrying in the temple. All of these are commendable efforts and important to the growth of the kingdom. But when individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently, these other areas of activity will automatically come. Testimonies will increase. Commitment will be strengthened. Families will be fortified. Personal revelation will flow.”
For me, a great change came into my life when I began to treasure the scriptures we receive during General Conference. When I was a kid my parents made us watch at least one session of General Conference. This felt like a punishment. When I first became a full-time missionary, I watched all the sessions of General Conference. Not because I saw it as scripture, but because it meant I could take a break from doing missionary work. But by the end of the mission, I treasured being able to listen to the inspired messages. When I returned to the “real world” I continued to watch all the sessions, but that was about as far as it went. In my 30’s I decided that I should watch and read the talks. Then in my 40’s, I decided I would watch all the sessions, read all the talks, and cut out all my favourite parts of each talk, which I then review as part of my daily scripture study.
I don’t tell that story to let you know what a great person I am. But only to show that it took me over 40 years to really become converted to the words of latter-day prophets. I genuinely hope you’re a faster learner than I am.
(2) Serve others
Elder Marvin J. Aston recounted a story of a “fireside address held with a group of adult Latter-day Saints. The leader directing the discussion invited participation by asking the question: ‘How can you tell if someone is converted to Jesus Christ?’ For forty-five minutes those in attendance made numerous suggestions in response to this question, and the leader carefully wrote down each answer on a large blackboard. All of the comments were thoughtful and appropriate. But after a time, this great teacher erased everything he had written. Then, acknowledging that all of the comments had been worthwhile and appreciated, he taught a vital principle: [He said] ‘The best and most clear indicator that we are progressing spiritually and coming unto Christ is the way we treat other people.’
“One of the greatest indicators of righteous character [or conversion] is the capacity to recognize and appropriately respond to other people who are experiencing the very challenge or adversity that is most immediately and forcefully pressing upon us. …in the power to discern the suffering of other people when we ourselves are suffering; in the ability to detect the hunger of others when we are hungry; and in the power to reach out and extend compassion for the spiritual agony of others when we are in the midst of our own spiritual distress. Therefore, character [or conversion] is demonstrated by looking, turning, and reaching outward when the instinctive response of the natural man in each of us is to turn inward and to be selfish and self-absorbed.”
Of all gospel principles, I have the strongest testimony of how serving others helps us as much as those we serve. As President Spencer Kimball taught, “Only when you lift a burden, God will lift your burden. Divine paradox this! The man who staggers and falls because his burden is too great can lighten that burden by taking on the weight of another’s burden. You get by giving…”
(3) Stand in more holy places
Over the past year and a half, there have been times where our traditional “holy places” have not been available to us. Church has been cancelled or only virtual. The temple has been closed or attendance restricted. This of course has meant we have had to create our own holy places.
Sister Sharon G. Larsen gave us a powerful reminder that “Holy places can be wherever you are—alone, in a crowd, with strangers, with friends. The road to Jericho was treacherous and formidable. Thieves infiltrated the bushes and trees waiting to ambush any traveller. It took a kind and courageous Samaritan to change that road from a haunted place to a holy place.”
What are you doing to convert your everyday spaces into holy places?
Not that long ago I went through a time of struggle. I wasn’t unhappy, but life felt very heavy. I was doing all the things I should be doing; church, prayer, scriptures. But none of it felt fulfilling. I was really only going through the motions and spiritually I felt empty. During this time Marty was working nights. She would leave the house just before 11 pm to go to work. When I was alone at that time those feelings felt especially oppressive. One day in an attempt to clear my head I decided to go for a walk. I cued up a gospel-related book I had kind of been listening to and I just walked. It was near midnight, so the streets were empty. It was just me, my book, and the night. That night I felt the spirit of God taught me many things. I came home invigorated. Excited about the gospel and what I had learned. So, I began doing this most nights. Walking and listening to uplifting things. This was a tiny change in my life, but the spiritual rewards have been immeasurable. Those walks became my holy place.
Growing up repentance always carried a negative connotation for me. It was something you had to do when you didn’t measure up. But in 2019, when President Nelson taught us so expertly that “when Jesus asks you and me to ‘repent,’ He is inviting us to change”, this completely transformed my view of this essential gospel principle. No longer was repentance a punishment for falling down. Instead, it is the continual process of becoming better. I can do that.
Repentance and conversion both mean change! If we continually work to repent, to become better, our conversion will inevitably deepen. Elder Richard G. Scott stated that “true conversion is the fruit of faith, repentance, and consistent obedience. Faith comes by hearing the word of God and responding to it. … You will be led to repent of errors... As a consequence, your capacity to consistently obey will be strengthened. This cycle of faith, repentance, and consistent obedience will lead you to greater conversion.”
To summarize, 4 ways deepen our conversion include: Immersing ourselves in the scriptures, Serving others, Standing in more holy places, and Repenting.
Now the question is, “What are you going to do to increase your faith? What are you willing to sacrifice to deepen your conversion?”
This is not just important it is essential.
Being a member of the church of Jesus Christ is not going to get easier. As the world continues to drift, our position as followers of Jesus Christ is going to look continually more peculiar. Without a conversion that is continually growing deeper and stronger, we are just not going to make it.
Elder David A. Bednar taught:
“Testimony alone is not and will not be enough to protect us in the latter-day storm of darkness and evil in which we are living. Testimony is important and necessary but not sufficient to provide the spiritual strength and protection we need. … Knowing that the gospel is true is the essence of a testimony. Consistently being true to the gospel is the essence of conversion. We should know the gospel is true and be true to the gospel.”
To repeat the call to action of our prophet, Russell M. Nelson, “…my call to you … is to start today to increase your faith [deepen your conversion]. Through your faith [deepening conversion], Jesus Christ will increase your ability to move the mountains in your life…”
I testify to you today, that as I have worked to deepen my own conversion, to draw closer to my heavenly parents, to my Savior Jesus Christ, I have received an increased ability to handle the heaviness of life. You can too.
I testify of that in the name of he who makes that possible, Jesus Christ, amen.