Mormons believe that a person should pray and ask God if their Church is true, rather than just depending on the words of others. James 1:5, in the New Testament, is one place where the Bible assures us God will answer our prayers for wisdom. Sometimes, though, a person will kneel down, ask for a testimony…and not get an answer. Then they wonder what went wrong. Were the Mormons wrong when they said to pray? Is God just not listening? Why didn’t the answer come?
Often we think an answer to a prayer should come immediately, but my experience is that the more important the question, the longer it takes to get an answer. God needs to know we’re serious about getting that answer. In addition, it is usually better for us to gain our testimonies a little at a time. Here’s how it worked for me:
I started out, like many people, with no intention of becoming a Mormon. I was looking for a church to join, but I was a teenager and figured I had plenty of time to choose one. I’d been attending meetings with friends, but the lessons weren’t really geared toward non-Mormons, so I was often confused. There was always a lot of background information that needed to be understood. I realized I needed a more systematic way to learn the gospel. I began meeting with the missionaries and soon received the customary request that I pray about it.
I tried. I really tried. I didn’t have much experience in praying for this type of answer, though. A prayer that could be answered through physical means—healing someone or keeping someone safe, for instance—I understood, but I’d never tried to just sit quietly and “listen” for an answer. (The answers seldom come as voices, but are more often feelings and thoughts.) I’d only felt the Holy Ghost twice in my life and didn’t know that same feeling could be an answer to prayer.
After days of praying without getting an answer, I decided to simplify the process and just ask for something a little smaller. Maybe asking if the church was true was too much for a first try. The immediate problem for me was which church to join. I had long ago decided I wouldn’t join any church unless I was sure it was the one God wanted me to join. I asked that and quickly got an answer. Now I knew what answers felt like, because once I experienced it, I know right away what it was. (It’s sort of like falling in love the first time—no one can tell you what it feels like, but when it happens, you know.)
I joined the church and over the next year, I returned to my first prayer. I still had no answer, but I studied, learned, served, and demonstrated my commitment to the church God had chosen for me. I continued the process of smaller prayers. I asked about specific doctrines. Every time, I learned the Church’s doctrine was correct. In time, I realized that probably meant the entire church was true. Now when I began praying for that answer, I got the answer. I was ready and I had demonstrated that I would do what God asked me to do—I’d make the answer worth receiving. I have known people who prayed to know if the church was true who chose to ignore the answer because they didn’t really want it to be true. I had proven I would act on the answer.
Mormon scriptures teach us that we need to learn the gospel line upon line. This means we don’t learn it all at once or get our answers all at once. He likes us to move slowly, take our time, and master one thing at a time before moving on to the next. By allowing me to gain a testimony of one doctrine, and then another, I was better prepared to accept that it was all true. In the meantime, each time I learned a specific doctrine was true, I added it to my life. Doing this one step at a time kept me from being overwhelmed by too many new things to do in order to live a Christian life.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell says it may actually be better for you to receive it that way. “Paced progress not only is acceptable to the Lord but also is recommended by Him. Divine declarations say: “Ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now.” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:40) “I will lead you along.” (Doctrine and Covenants 78:18) Just as divine disclosure usually occurs line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, so likewise will we achieve our spiritual progress gradually.” (Men and Women of Christ, page 23)
Being slow to gain your testimony does not mean you lack faith. David O. McKay, a former Mormon prophet, was born into a Mormon family. As a young boy, he prayed for a testimony, but didn’t get an answer. Many years later, while serving a voluntary Mormon mission, his answer finally came. He went on to become a prophet, so it is easy to see God does things on his own timetable, not ours. He apparently saw value in allowing the process to take so long for President McKay.
Be patient. Study, live what you learn, long for a testimony, and continue to pray. It’s not that it wasn’t answered–it’s that it is still in the process of being answered. It will come.