Complete trust in God requires that we exercise faith and surrender our will to His. I think of the parable of the sower wherein the word of God was accepted on the stony ground and in the thorny place. The truth is accepted with joy but it is unable to gain root because the ground, or the heart, is offended because of the tribulation and persecution from others. Or, the truth is accepted but care for worldly things strangles the word and it fails to take hold.
How often do we find ourselves, having felt the Spirit and accepted the truths of the Restoration, beginning to question our need to obey certain commandments or the counsel of the Lord’s servants? How often do we begin to think that maybe the brethren got it wrong and that we know better?
As a very young boy I watched as my father gained a testimony of the Restoration. He shared the story of the young Joseph Smith and the First Vision and of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. The change in his life was visible and contagious. I dedicated myself to finding out the truth for myself. I studied the Restoration and the Book of Mormon. I studied the words of the Prophet Joseph, Brother Brigham, and our modern day prophets and apostles. When I turned 8 years old I was ready and excited to get baptized. My father pulled me aside to ask me a simple question before he would let me go forward with my baptism. He asked if I had a testimony of the restored gospel, a testimony of my own. He understood better than I what I was promising to the Lord.
At the time I felt sure that it was true, but I hadn’t ever asked Heavenly Father directly. So, I resolved to do so. To this day I remember kneeling and leaning on the lower bunk bed in my bedroom. I prayed out loud, asking Heavenly Father to let me know if Joseph Smith had seen Him and His Son. I asked if the Book of Mormon was true. I asked if the Church was true. I received an answer through the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost that it was true. Since the time my father had accepted the gospel and baptism, I had felt the Holy Ghost and recognized his confirmation. I accepted baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and made covenants to take upon myself the name of Christ and to obey his commandments.
Growing older I continued to study the gospel, learning more and doing more. Questions and the temptations of the world also began to beset me. My commitments and covenants began to demand real choices. When I was fifteen years old I decided to commit myself again to reconfirming the truthfulness of the gospel. Once again I devoured the Book of Mormon. Prayer became part of my routine as I sought strength, wisdom, and reassurance. Again my prayers were answered. My behavior as a teenager wasn’t perfect. I made mistakes but I knew I needed to change my behavior.
One more time in high school I had questions arise. This time it wasn’t so much about the truthfulness of the gospel, but about the Lord’s church, its earthly leaders, and my role in the church. Could I trust the counsel and decisions made and provided by my bishop, by the prophet, by the general authorities? It had become obvious to me that they were men who made mistakes. Maybe they had made mistakes in their callings, mistakes that didn’t remove my requirement to listen to them.
With some doubts I pressed onward. I made additional covenants in the temple. I served a full-time mission, returned home and married in the temple. As the years have gone by, I have watched as friends and loved ones have allowed some aspect of the gospel or the actions and decisions of some in the church to weaken their resolve to be obedient. Often they would claim to have a testimony of the Restored Gospel but that church leadership had gone astray in some way, that some teaching or program was incorrect.
It is always painful to me when someone I know and love struggles with trust and struggles with faith in the Lord and his church. Looking ahead I can see the pains and sorrows, the missed opportunities for joy and happiness that will be part of their future. Sometimes doubts will begin to play at the edges of my mind when I begin to wonder how someone who had been so strong and so valiant could begin to doubt.
I have come to realize a few key truths, about the gospel, about human nature, and about myself.
First, I know that the Book of Mormon is true. I know that it is the word of God as delivered through ancient prophets and translated by Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon testifies and teaches of Christ, confirming the sacred truths taught in the Holy Bible.
Second, because the Book of Mormon is true I know that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration. I know that he did see the Father and the Son in the sacred grove. I know that through him the truths, authority, and organization of the church were restored to the earth in accordance with the will of God. I know that the priesthood, the authority to act in God’s name in order to do His work was restored.
Third, I have a testimony that the priesthood authority that was restored to Jospeh Smith and Oliver Cowdery remains on the earth and is active today. With that priesthood comes the right and authority to receive revelation, to come to know the mind and will of the Lord concerning His kingdom and church upon the earth. Under the direction the Prophet Joseph and each of his duly authorized successors, the Lord has put in place the organizations and teachings that will bring about the “immortality and eternal life of man.”
We have a living prophet on the earth today. We have had a living prophet and apostles since the time that the Prophet Joseph organized the Church under the direction of the Savior. The living prophet has a sacred and solemn responsibility to teach us what God would have us know in this day and to serve as a steward over the Lord’s Church. I know that the Lord has prepared, called, and qualified each prophet in this dispensation and will do so for those who are to come. Regarding the prophet’s sacred duty to teach us the Lord’s will, President Harold B. Lee stated:
“You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may conflict with your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life…Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow…Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church.”
And President Ezra Taft Benson wisely taught us:
“How we respond to the words of a living prophet when he tells us what we need to know, but would rather not hear, is a test of our faithfulness.”
Fourth, I know that God is perfect. I know that my Savior is perfect. I know that they are infinitely wiser than me and that they are infinitely wiser than anyone else with whom I may come into contact in this life. I know that God loves me perfectly, wants what is best for me, and knows what is best for me. I know that his love extends to all of his children. I know that He knows the future from the past. Nothing that will happen as pertains to His kingdom will come to Him as a surprise or a shock. In the laying out of His great plan, He has taken into account all of our actions, good and bad, so that He might bring about the greatest good.
Fifth, I know that we have agency. Our Heavenly Father will not force us to accept all of his blessings or his plan. We may not be able to choose the consequences of our actions and thoughts, but we can choose our actions and thoughts. Some blessings and knowledge will come to us only as we are obedient and faithful as required.
Sixth, I have learned the importance of trusting God completely. My trust in God must accompany my faith and that I must be willing to turn my will completely over to him. The prophets teach us and exhort us to trust in God.
As Nephi taught us:
“O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yeah, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.” (2 Nephi 4:34)
Or as the Psalmist taught:
“They that trust in the LORD shall be as the mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever.” (Psalms 125:1)
“Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.” (Psalms 62:8)
Central to that trust is the precept that it is not my place to counsel God in His work. President Marion G. Romney explained:
“…seeking to counsel the Lord generally means disregarding the Lord’s counsel, either knowingly or unknowingly, and in place thereof substituting our own counsel or the persuasions of men. Doing this is a very common human weakness. But until we are able to conquer it, real closeness to the Spirit of the Lord eludes us regardless of our other gifts and attainments.”
Jacob, the Book of Mormon prophet, taught:
“Wherefore…seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works.” (Jacob 4:10)
Seventh, I have a testimony of the Atonement. Not only do I know that I can be cleansed of my sins, but I know that our shortcomings and mistakes will be made to work for our mortal and eternal welfare. Our Heavenly Father does His work through us imperfect mortals. We make mistakes, some intentional and some otherwise. In those instances where a priesthood or other church leader may make a mistake in the execution of their office, the Lord is aware of the mistake before it takes place and will through His infinite wisdom and the power of His Atonement, cause them to work in accordance with His plans.
I take comfort, especially as I serve in various callings in the church, in the word of President Wilford Woodruff:
“I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.”
Eight, I am responsible for my own actions and decisions. It is my responsibility, in accordance with the testimony that I have received, to trust in the Lord. This means trusting in His duly called and ordained priesthood leaders. This means trusting in His organization, in His infinite wisdom to know what is best. It means that I do not seek to counsel the Lord’s servants when it is not my place. To do so is to counsel God. This doesn’t mean that I can’t ask questions of the Lord’s servants. I can and should ask questions if I don’t understand or fully agree. When the Lord counsels me not to “trust in the arm of flesh”, he is referring first to me. I am not wiser than the Lord. My friends, family, and associates are not wiser than the Lord. I must trust in the Lord and bring my will into agreement with his will.
This Church is the Lord’s. He is in control. He knows whom he has called. He knows how to speak to those whom he has called. He knows how to move His work forward. He knows how to work with our strengths and with our weaknesses. He knows how to turn our weaknesses into strengths. He knows how to compensate for any mistakes His servants may make in the execution of their duties. Who am I to question the wisdom of the Lord as though I know more than Him, as though I love more than Him?
The Church is true. It is organized according to the pattern set by the Lord. A living prophet is upon the earth today with the priesthood keys necessary to move the kingdom of God forward. The Lord has the power to save and exalt each one of us. The price has been paid and the pathway paved. It is up to us to enter the strait gate with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, to have the trust and humility necessary to receive the celestial blessings that He has in store for each one of us.
Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet, President Ezra Taft Benson
Seek Not to Counsel the Lord, President Marion G. Romney
Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father, Elder Neal A. Maxwell