A talk by Pete Codella for high council speaking Sunday in July 2015 (learn more here). Many ideas and segments of this talk come from the resources on lds.org noted below.
Many of us are at times like the father who asked the Savior to heal his child with the “dumb spirit.” The scriptures record that “straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
To those with lingering doubts and questions, there are ways to help your unbelief.
First, know that with even a desire to believe, your belief will grow.
We can follow the counsel of Alma the Younger in the Book of Mormon: “… 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).
He also taught: “God…desireth, in the first place, that ye should believe” (Alma 32:22).
The choice is ours: Do we choose to have faith, or do we choose doubt?
In the fervent, apostolic words of Elder Holland: “Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not!” he said.
When I was 17, during a time I was wrapping up my junior year of high school, taking college entrance exams, performing in five musical ensembles at school and in a community theater production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” my dad’s parents had traveled from Las Vegas to upstate New York to spend some time with our family.
On a muggy spring afternoon my grandpa was helping me mow a lawn — which was how I earned cash for the things I wanted — when I heard the mower unexpectedly shut off and turned to see my grandpa lying motionless on his back on our neighbor’s lawn.
My first aid training kicked in and I checked his pulse, then began performing CPR. After a minute or two of no response, I ran to the house to tell my mom what had happened, then returned to keep doing CPR until a neighbor came and took over.
This was a very unexpected turn of events. My 67 year-old grandpa suffered a major heart attack and even with professional help, his heart never beat again.
The days that followed were some of the most challenging of my childhood and teenage years. My parents returned with my grandma to Las Vegas, accompanied by my grandpa’s body, to bury him. I was sent to a friend’s home for several days. My friend had gone through a similar loss with his father a few years before that, and his comfort was helpful.
My sister and brother were sent to other friend’s homes for the time my parents were away. Without my family around me, I felt alone. I turned to my Heavenly Father in sincere, humble, heartbroken prayer, many times a day as I struggled through my busy routines. My pleas basically went something like this:
I’ve been taught since primary about the plan of salvation and purpose of life and what happens at death. Please help me better understand and know that these things are true. And please reassure me about life after death, and comfort my grandma, parents and other relatives as they mourn grandpa’s passing.
I can tell you that because of this experience, my testimony grew. I received a confirmation of what I had been taught. I came to understand the plan of salvation and what happens at death more deeply. I received the peace that only the Comforter can bring.
Then two years later, while a freshman at BYU, I had a sacred experience where my grandpa spoke to me. I knew that, although he was separated from his body, he was okay and loved us all very much.
At age 17, I had the moral courage Elder Holland talked about to start from a place of faith, rather than doubt. And I was blessed with increased understanding and testimony, even greater faith.
Just having a desire to believe, and letting that desire work and grow within us, leads to greater faith.
Elder Ringwood of the Seventy put it this way:
The daily living of the gospel brings a softness of heart needed to have an easiness and willingness to believe the word of God.
A test to measure our easiness and willingness to believe can occur each week as we attend sacrament meeting. In this meeting we renew covenants by expressing our willingness to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, to always remember Him, and to keep His commandments.
This easiness and willingness to believe in the word of God comes from a softness of heart. It comes from having a heart that is sensitive to the Holy Ghost. It comes from having a heart that can love. It comes from having a heart that will make and keep sacred covenants. It comes from a soft heart that can feel the power of the Atonement of Christ.
And while we talk about a desire to have faith, and choosing to believe, it’s important to recognize, as Elder Clayton taught in April’s general conference, that belief, testimony and faith are not passive principles. They do not just happen to us.
They’re more like the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which requires our willingness to receive it, and make the most of it. They are characteristics we choose — we hope for, work for, and sacrifice for.
A second way to help our unbelief is to “doubt our doubts before we doubt our faith.” We’ve been counseled by numerous general authorities about this in recent years.
President Faust said: “Do not let your private doubts separate you from the divine source of knowledge.”
Elder Holland said: “I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have.”
President Uchtdorf is the one who told us to: “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.”
President Faust also taught: “To those who believe but wish their belief to be strengthened, I urge you to walk in faith and trust in God.”
Implied in President Faust’s admonition to “walk in faith and trust in God,” is obedience to the Lord’s commandments. This is the third way we combat unbelief.
When I taught elders quorum in college, after my mission, I taught a lesson on obedience where I used a beautiful white frosted cake to represent being clean from sin, then grabbed handfuls of cake to show a chocolate cake, revealing sin hid from outward observance.
I explained that through obedience and the atonement we could be forgiven of sin and washed clean, which I represented by a white cake also covered in white frosting — the cake the chocolate cake could become.
A member of the class raised his hand and commented that he felt the Lord loved both cakes, and perhaps the chocolate one even more because it had gone through some tough times before it was cleaned through the atonement.
That comment has always bothered me, and seeing what the past 25 years has brought in his life, I can see how that perspective has colored his decisions.
The truth is, power comes from obedience. Sure the atonement is available to help us become clean, but the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost and assurance we are on the right path come through consistent effort, through courage and as much obedience as possible, doing our best to improve with the Lord’s help day-in and day-out, and becoming, as President Soffe says, “brilliant at the basics” — attending church, saying our prayers and reading the scriptures (known as CPR in the mission of one of our stake’s recently returned missionaries).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to disappoint or hurt the ones I love. Completing the atonement is something only Jesus Christ could have done. I love Him for the gift of resurrection and the opportunity for salvation and eternal life — for what He has done for me personally, for my family and for all humankind. As much as possible, I do not want to be responsible for His sweat and agony — not one more drop of blood — because of something I could have done differently.
Obedience fosters faith, and it prevents a whole lot of heartache.
Elder Faust taught:
For those who, like the biblical father, say, “I believe; help thou mine unbelief,” we can have a confirmation by following the direction of Moroni in the Book of Mormon, which challenges us to ask “God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ” (Moroni 10:4), regarding the truth that can only come by faith in Christ and through revelation.
However, there are two indispensable elements. We must “ask with a sincere heart, with real intent,” and then God “will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”
Every person must have a spiritual confirmation by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is more powerful than all the senses combined. To those who say, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief,” “look forward with an eye of faith.”
To those who do this, the Lord has promised, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.”
Elder Faust counseled: “It’s a mistake to let distractions, slights, or offenses pull down our own house of faith.”
In my observation, there’s probably no more difficult time to keep a house of faith together than through the experience of divorce. It has touched our extended family. It is most likely a reality, in one way or another, for almost everyone listening today.
Because of divorce, families that were sealed together with children born in the covenant can become non-church-going, unfaithful servants, for this and future generations.
I can’t empathize with this experience; only sympathize with it. I do think this counsel from the Book of Mormon applies:
Doubt not, but be believing… and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him (Mormon 9:27).
Regardless of our circumstances, who or what we may think caused them, we are agents to act for ourselves. We have the gift and ability to choose faith and faithfulness. Each day we can choose to follow the commandments and increase our faith.
Finally, all things are possible to him that believeth. That’s what Jesus told the father of the boy with the “dumb spirit” just before he healed the son:
“If thou canst believe,” He said, “all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23).
Believing in Christ, and in His redemptive power, is the true path to “peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.”
Sister Dalton has taught:
The Lord has promised us that as we “search diligently, pray always, and be believing, … all things [will] work together for [our] good” (D&C 90:24). That doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect or that we will not have any trials, but it does mean that everything will be okay if we just “hang in there.” Ours is the opportunity to “be … an example of the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12), and the Savior has promised that “all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). So believe in yourselves. Believe that you are never alone. Believe that you will always be guided.
In April 2013, Elder Holland related this experience:
A 14-year-old boy recently said to me a little hesitantly, “Brother Holland, I can’t say yet that I know the Church is true, but I believe it is.” I hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out. I told him with all the fervor of my soul that belief is a precious word, an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for “only believing.”
I told him that Christ Himself said, “Be not afraid, only believe,” a phrase which, by the way, carried young Gordon B. Hinckley into the mission field. I told this boy that belief was always the first step toward conviction and that the definitive articles of our collective faith forcefully reiterate the phrase “We believe.” And I told him how very proud I was of him for the honesty of his quest.
Elder Holland concluded that talk, with this testimony:
What was once a tiny seed of belief for me has grown into the tree of life, so if your faith is a little tested in this or any season, I invite you to lean on mine. I know this work is God’s very truth, and I know that only at our peril would we allow doubt or devils to sway us from its path. Hope on. Journey on. Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe.
We conquer doubt and disbelief through:
1. Having a strong desire to believe, and nourishing that desire.
2. Doubting our doubts before doubting our faith.
3. Walking in faith, with obedience and trust in God.
We’re taught, and come to know through life’s experiences, that all things are possible to them that believe.
So, “be not afraid, only believe,” and if belief becomes difficult, lean on the testimony of those around you, like Elder Holland, and keep repeating, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
Choose to Believe, Elder Clayton, April 2015
Come, Join with Us, President Uchtdorf, October 2013
Lord, I Believe, Elder Holland, April 2013
An Easiness and Willingness to Believe, Elder Ringwood, October 2009
Lord, I Believe; Help Thou Mine Unbelief, President Faust, October 2003
Help Thou Mine Unbelief, Elder Clayton, 2001
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