I have read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover in preparation to serve a mission. I finished and I feel like I prayed with a real intent to know if it was true. Growing up in the Church I wanted an experience I could look back on to anchor me. But I felt nothing, I’ve read scriptures James 1:5 and Moroni 10-4,5 but I am home because of the pandemic, and struggling to go back out. How can I really gain a testimony? I can’t go out and and bear a testimony I don’t have.
Thank you for taking a moment to ask this question, and it is comforting for me to see a young man who wants to be genuine when declaring a truth to others. In my youth, I found myself in a similar situation as you, but in a different way. Before I go into that let’s review from scripture items that need to be considered with a question like yours (these are general questions that may or may not apply to you right now):
1) Will God further reveal to us what we already know, but for some reason are denying?
2) King Laman, Lamoni’s father, at first was willing to give up half a kingdom to know what Aaron knew. When the reality of what Aaron was teaching settled in King Laman was willing to give up all his sins to know. Is there anything in our lives that might be preventing a witness?
3) Is our desire to know the truth real, or simply a reluctant obedience in doing what people have said without any real intent?
4) Am I tying God down to a specific experience in order to have the truth revealed and to receive a testimony?
5) How does God reveal truth? What has he already revealed to us?
6) Have you witnessed God’s hand in your family?
7) The Lord’s timing. Have I allowed the Lord to answer me on his timeline vs. when I think he should do it? An answer is promised, but an immediate answer is not.
When I began serving a mission I read the following verse of scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 9:8-9 that refers to a “burning in our bosom.” This was the way God revealed truth, at least that is what was being taught, and since I had never felt this before I found myself in a similar position as you, “How do I teach the Gospel when I haven’t received a testimony”?
I began to pray, read, and fast for a testimony. I wanted to feel this “burning in my bosom.” I never received this witness, and to this day I have not and do not know what a “burning in the bosom” feels like. What I did discover is that when I was no longer looking for a specific witness the Lord spoke to my mind and heart. I knew from the Spirit of the Lord (the Lord’s voice, mind, and will) and thus began the seed of my testimony. I discovered for me the truth of Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3. The spirit of revelation/prophecy is when the Lord speaks to your mind and heart. The Spirit of the Lord then commanded me to build upon what I received. Later in my life I read the following words from President Joseph F. Smith which describes my testimony and knowledge of the gospel:
“When I as a boy first started out in the ministry,” he explained, “I would frequently go out and ask the Lord to show me some marvelous thing, in order that I might receive a testimony. But the Lord withheld marvels from me, and showed me the truth, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, until he made me to know the truth from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and until doubt and fear had been absolutely purged from me. He did not have to send an angel from the heavens to do this, nor did he have to speak with the trump of an archangel. By the whisperings of the still small voice of the Spirit of the living God, he gave to me the testimony I possess. And by this principle and power he will give to all the children of men a knowledge of the truth that will stay with them, and it will make them to know the truth, as God knows it, and to do the will of the Father as Christ does it.”
This appears to be a true path by which the Lord reveals his truth to his children. There are obviously outliers to this path also. At this time also, early in my mission, there wasn’t any sin in my life that had not been repented of. If I needed to resolve something with the bishop it was resolved. When I taught at the MTC I had the privilege of teaching a young man from my home ward who was struggling also. He was not receiving the witness he wanted to receive pertaining to staying on the mission or returning home in order to marry his girlfriend. Mind you I knew this young man. I also knew of decisions he made, which would have prevented him from serving a mission as soon as he did. He had unrepented, unresolved sins that were preventing him from receiving the witness he desired. Like King Laman, he was willing to give up half of his kingdom (meaning, he was willing to leave his home, but the other half he really didn’t want to lose — girlfriend). As such, there were sins preventing the Spirit. If we are unwilling to give up all our sins (especially when we are about to serve a mission, or are on the mission) it will be hard to receive any answer from the Lord as our mind will not be prepared to receive it.
On my mission, I taught a lady who said the following words, “I already know Joseph Smith is not a prophet of God, but I will pray anyway.” When we asked if she prayed she said she had and that she didn’t receive an answer. When we asked how she prayed she said the following, “I prayed and asked the Lord by saying, ‘Lord, I already know Joseph Smith is not a prophet, but because the Elders have asked me I am praying to know,’ and I did not receive an answer.” My companion and I looked at each other and were not surprised she did not receive an answer. At times, we may be reluctant although we still act, but are our actions with true intent and sincerity. Or, are our actions merely to say, “Well, I did what was asked, and still nothing.”
Another story I really enjoy from President Joseph F. Smith is regarding his mother. When he was a young boy traveling with his mother and uncle at some point their oxen went missing. Joseph and his uncle had searched and searched and had come up empty handed. As he was returning back to his mother this is what he shares:
“In this pitiable plight I was the first to return to our wagons, and as I approached I saw my mother kneeling down in prayer. I halted for a moment and then drew gently near enough to hear her pleading with the Lord not to suffer us to be left in this helpless condition, but to lead us to recover our lost team, that we might continue our travels in safety. When she arose from her knees I was standing nearby. The first expression I caught upon her precious face was a lovely smile, which discouraged as I was, gave me renewed hope and an assurance I had not felt before.
“She cheerfully encouraged Joseph and his uncle to sit and enjoy the breakfast she had prepared and said, “I will just take a walk out and see if I can find the cattle.” Despite her brother’s protests that further searching would be fruitless, Mary set out, leaving him and Joseph F. to eat breakfast. She encountered a nearby herdsman who indicated that he had seen the lost oxen in the direction opposite to her course. Joseph F. said, “We heard plainly what he said, but mother went right on, and did not even turn her head to look at him.” She soon beckoned to Joseph F. and his uncle, who ran to the spot where she stood. There they saw the oxen fastened to a clump of willows.
“President Joseph F. Smith later said, “It was one of the first practical and positive demonstrations of the efficacy of prayer I had ever witnessed. It made an indelible impression upon my mind, and has been a source of comfort, assurance and guidance to me throughout all of my life.”
Has there been anything in your life, with your family, or with a friend, or you personally that you can draw on when you are asking the Lord for a witness? The Book of Mormon says it a little differently with the following words:
“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.” (emphasis mine) Moroni 10:3
When you prayed, were you remembering the Lord’s love for you (his death, his sacrifice)? Were you possibly remembering any spiritual witness that the Lord (as with Joseph F. Smith and his mother) has heard and answered prayers? Were you possibly pondering the love you have for others and those who you will be serving? Were you pondering the tender mercies the Lord has shown in scripture?
I want to thank you again Matthew for taking the time to ask this question, and the desire you have to be genuine in declaring your testimony. You want to know. May the Lord bless you with a calm heart and mind to hear his voice, his love, and his mercy for you as his son.