Today I had the very special opportunity to speak in church about how to strengthen our relationship with Jesus Christ in the coming new year.
My Bishop gave me two weeks to prepare, and the first week I did spend quite a bit of time researching and pondering. But, the week before speaking, I was so busy preparing for Christmas, and was so tired, that I didn’t really sit down to finish my talk until after everyone went to bed Christmas night.
I prayed before I began pulling my talk together that I would be able to focus on and write the most worthwhile things for everyone to hear. I cannot describe just how tired I was last night, but I was somehow able to write my talk in a matter of hours. I went to bed late and then got up early to shorten it. I was happy with it. I also knew I would cry since just by reading it aloud I teared up.
Well, I got up to give my talk, and I cried many times. I felt the Spirit testify to me so strongly that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer. I ran out of time to finish my talk, but I hope and pray that people were touched today by the words God inspired me to put together. I am pasting the words to my talk below. I hope they bring joy and inspiration to you.
Merry Christmas, brothers and sisters. I hope you have felt the love of your Heavenly Father and your Savior Jesus Christ as you have celebrated His birth this season. The new year is nearly here, and it’s a time to resolve to be better than we were this past year. Perhaps the most crucial resolve we can make is to nourish and strengthen our testimony of Jesus Christ.
Elder Richard G. Scott taught that [a testimony]…is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions. It generates the conviction that as the teachings of the Savior are consistently obeyed, life will be beautiful, the future secure, and there will be capacity to overcome the challenges that cross our path.”
No matter where we fall on the spectrum of our faith, there are so many ways to strengthen our testimonies of Christ. I would like to discuss some of them today.
The first two are simple and go hand in hand. See if you can hear them in this quote by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “Daily fervent prayers seeking forgiveness and direction are essential to our lives and the nourishment of our testimonies. Personal, sincere involvement in the scriptures produces faith, hope, and solutions to our daily challenges. Frequently reading, pondering, and applying the lessons of the scriptures, combined with prayer, become an irreplaceable part of gaining and sustaining a strong, vibrant testimony.”
Have you ever studied your scriptures by focusing on the Savior? You can study the types of Christ in the Old Testament or read how the prophets prophesied of His birth, life, and atonement, especially Isaiah; you can highlight all instances where Jesus is mentioned in the scriptures, in the Book of Mormon especially; you can study each section of the topical guide that talks about Him and all the wonderful names by which He is called. You can read in the four gospels and in 3rd Nephi where Jesus actually walked with, talked with, prayed with, and healed real people. You can make those stories even more powerful and personal as you imagine that you are the blind man that he gave sight to, that you were the woman whose issue of blood was healed by touching his garment, that you were one of the children He sat upon His knee, that you were one of a member of the congregation when He gave His sermon on the mount, that you were one of the Nephites who felt the nail prints in his hands and feet. How would you have felt if you had been there – if you had seen the Savior? If you had touched Him? If you had heard Him speak? If you had seen His love for you through His eyes?
And when you pray, you can thank Heavenly Father for the precious gift of His beloved son and you can focus on what your Savior has done for you, and what He can do for you. Offer up your thanks, your reverence, your love, and your praises so that He feels your love. Ask what you can do to be like Him, to share His light, to serve His children. Pray for forgiveness of your sins and for strength to overcome weakness through the powers of His atonement.
That is another way to strengthen our testimonies of Christ – by better understanding and applying His infinite atonement to our lives. Through Christ’s atonement, we can be cleansed and redeemed as we repent.
President Russell M. Nelson has called repentance “a never-ending privilege. It is fundamental to progression and having peace of mind, comfort, and joy.”
Some of us may feel that we have sinned so heavily that there is no hope for forgiveness. If you are feeling that now, please do not feel that way another moment. Take heart on this beautiful truth from Elder Truman G. Madsen: “If there are some of you who have been tricked into the conviction that you have gone too far, … that you have had the poison of sin which makes it impossible ever again to be what you could have been—then hear me. You cannot sink farther than the light and sweeping intelligence of Jesus Christ can reach. As long as there is one spark of the will to repent and to reach, he is there. He did not just descend to your condition; he descended below it, ‘that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth.’
Another way we can more fully appreciate the redeeming power of Christ’s atonement is by treating the ordinance of the Sacrament as a holy ordinance, and the most important part of our church meetings. Elder Holland said that this sacred weekly ordinance “should be a powerful, reverent, reflective moment. It should encourage spiritual feelings and impressions.”
In his talk “This Do in Remembrance of Me,” Elder Holland gives beautiful ideas of how we can reverently reflect on our Savior during the Sacrament. I recommend that everyone print those suggestions out and refer to them often. During the administration of this sacred ordinance, other ideas are to read the scriptures, conference talks, or sacrament hymns, and pray to Heavenly Father, thanking Him for the gift of His son, and asking for forgiveness and strength to be a better disciple of Christ.
The most beautiful truth in Elder Holland’s talk, to me was this: “In his resurrected, otherwise perfected body, our Lord of this sacrament table has chosen to retain for the benefit of his disciples the wounds in his hands and his feet and his side—signs, if you will, that painful things happen even to the pure and perfect. Signs, if you will, that pain in this world is not evidence that God doesn’t love you. It is the wounded Christ who is the captain of our soul—he who yet bears the scars of sacrifice, the lesions of love and humility and forgiveness. Those wounds are what he invites young and old, then and now, to step forward and see and feel.”
And may I now share a portion of the beautiful testimony of Elder Bruce R. McConkie: “I testify that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. In a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way. God grant that all of us may walk in the light as God our Father is in the light so that, according to the promises, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son will cleanse us from all sin.”
Yes, through Christ’s atonement, we can be cleansed from our sins. And as Elder Bednar has explained, the Savior’s atonement has another wonderful power – the power to enable us to be better than we are.
He said, “The Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us—not only to direct us but also to empower us. … He can reach out, touch, and succor—literally run to us—and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do through relying only upon our own power.”
My favorite scripture in the Book of Mormon is Ether 12:27, which reads: “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” Elder Bednar explained that grace is another word for Christ’s enabling power.
We should take the time to ponder and self-reflect, thinking on our past weaknesses that we have seen improve through a righteous desire to change, coupled with fervent prayer and patience. We should express our gratitude through prayer for this divine help. We can then ponder on our current weaknesses honestly, humbly, and prayerfully. We can ask the question, “What lack I yet?” and we can trust in our Savior to help us make those weak things strong. As we trust in the Lord, we will recognize how callings, opportunities, and people who come our way can help us in that enabling process. I believe in Christ’s enabling power. I have seen that some weaknesses I had years ago have slowly and steadily become strengths, and I have nobody but my Savior to thank for that. It has changed my life, and I look forward to acting on His enabling powers to help me with more of my many weaknesses.
When we fully grasp onto the Savior’s atonement, we can truly become more like Him, putting his divine attributes to the test, and can come to know that His way is the highest and holiest way.
President Thomas S. Monson taught that “love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our Exemplar. His life was a legacy of love.”
In a world so full of judgment, anger, negativity, prejudice, and hate, it’s more important than ever that we resolve to stand apart from the world and exude light and love, compassion and forgiveness, empathy and understanding.
President Nelson taught that Christ has given us many gifts, one being “an unlimited capacity to love. That includes the capacity to love the unlovable and those who not only do not love you but presently persecute and despitefully use you. You may even want to ask God for His angels to walk with you where you presently do not want to tread.” Another gift President Nelson shared was the ability to forgive. He said, “Through His infinite Atonement, you can forgive those who have hurt you and who may never accept responsibility for their cruelty to you. The Savior will grant you the ability to forgive anyone who has mistreated you in any way.”
President Monson, speaking of the pure love of Christ taught that “Charity is having patience with someone who has let us down. It is resisting the impulse to become offended easily. It is accepting weaknesses and shortcomings. It is accepting people as they truly are. It is looking beyond physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time. It is resisting the impulse to categorize others.”
Sister Silvia Allred, adding onto that, said, “When we have charity, we are willing to serve and help others when it is inconvenient and with no thought of recognition or reciprocation. We don’t wait to be assigned to help, because it becomes our very nature.”
Elder Dale G. Renlund speaking about Christ as our good shepherd, said, “The Savior’s mortal ministry was characterized by love, compassion, and empathy. He did not disdainfully walk the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea, flinching at the sight of sinners. No, He ate with them. He helped and blessed, lifted and edified, and replaced fear and despair with hope and joy. We, who are sinners, must, like the Savior, reach out to others with compassion and love. Our role is also to help and bless, lift and edify, and replace fear and despair with hope and joy. The Savior rebuked individuals who recoiled from others they viewed as unclean and who self-righteously judged others as more sinful than they. Jesus Christ set the example for us to follow—to show respect to all and hatred toward none. As His disciples, let us fully mirror His love and love one another so openly and completely that no one feels abandoned, alone, or hopeless.”
These profound teachings can help us as we do our best to grow in our love for our fellow man in the coming year. I think the key to learning to love others unconditionally is to try to see them at God sees them and love them as God loves them. No matter how imperfect any person is, no matter how they identify or look like, no matter what they say, do, feel, or think, they are beloved children of Heavenly Father. He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to atone for all of us. He has His arms outstretched to everyone and He shuns none. Why then should we? If there are people in your life right now that you are struggling to like, love, or forgive, perhaps write down their names. Ask God to help you find good in them. Ask Him to help you soften your heart towards them. Ask Him to help you internalize that you do not know all that He knows. Ask Him to help you see what good you can do for others and what good they can do for you – even those that are most unlovable. Those who are hardest to love are often those who need love the most.
Living a life of Christ-like love is a wonderful way to help increase our testimony, as is lovingly sharing our testimony with others.
President Eyring promised, “You will be a light to the world as you share your testimony. You will reflect to others the Light of Christ in your life. The Lord will find ways for that light to touch those you love.”
So, how can we better share our testimonies in this coming year? Truthfully, it is not always easy because we are sometimes worried about how people will react. But, as we pray for that desire to share the gospel of Christ with others, the Holy Ghost will help us know what to say and how to say it.
Some ideas on how to share our testimonies are naturally talking about blessings and tender mercies in our lives, bearing our testimonies in testimony meeting, sending quotes, scriptures or videos to friends or family when we feel they may need it, having pictures of Christ in our homes so that when people come to visit they will know that we love Him, using our musical talents to sing praises to Him, and utilizing social media as a way to share spiritual insights, stories, and scriptures as we feel prompted. The Lord has given us all a unique combination of spiritual gifts, and with those gifts, we can truly share His gospel with others.
The final way to increase our testimony of Christ I wish to discuss is by faithfully attending the temple regularly. Living worthy to attend the temple, and making and keeping covenants for ourselves and the dead there, will increase the presence of the Holy Ghost in our lives, leading to greater testimony.
President Nelson recently taught: “The temple lies at the center of strengthening our faith and spiritual fortitude because the Savior and His doctrine are the very heart of the temple. Everything taught in the temple increases our understanding of Jesus Christ. His essential ordinances bind us to Him through sacred priesthood covenants. Then, as we keep our covenants, He endows us with His healing, strengthening power. The Lord is providing opportunities for each of us to bolster our spiritual foundations more effectively by centering our lives on Him and on the ordinances and covenants of His temple. When you bring your temple recommend, a contrite heart, and a seeking mind to the Lord’s house of learning, He will teach you.”
If you do not have a temple recommend, please make a goal to get one next year. If you do have one, please make consistent appointments to attend, bringing family names when possible. We all can make time for the temple. Our eternal lives depend on it.
To bring my thoughts together, I would like to share this lovely thought from Elder Timothy J. Dyches – “Just as sunlight daily bathes the earth to renew and sustain life, you can daily brighten the light within you when you choose to follow Jesus Christ. A drop of sunshine is added every time you seek God in prayer; study the scriptures to “hear Him”; act on guidance and revelation from our living prophets; and obey and keep the commandments. You will invite spiritual sunlight into your soul and peace into your life each time you repent. As you partake of the sacrament, His light will shine within you. There is sunshine in your soul every time you share the gospel and bear your testimony. Every time you serve one another as the Savior did, His warmth is felt in your heart. Heavenly Father’s light always resides within His holy temple and upon all who present themselves in the house of the Lord. His light in you is enhanced with your acts of kindness, patience, forgiveness, and charity and shows itself in your happy countenance. As you keep your face towards the sunshine, the shadows cannot help but fall behind you.”
Brothers and sisters, I know that Jesus is my Savior and my Redeemer. I know that He lives, and He is in Heaven with His and our Heavenly Father. Jesus, like Heavenly Father, loves each of us unconditionally. He smiles when we smile and weeps when we weep. He is always our friend and advocate. He knows how we feel. He wants to bless us. He wants us to return to live with Heavenly Father again. He has provided the way. I pray that we can all more fully believe in Him, love Him, follow Him, and share His love in the coming year.