Mormon Conversion: Time and Space

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church—every member is a convert. Each person must gain knowledge for himself or herself that the Church is true. My husband and I both were born and raised in The Church of Jesus Christ—with ancestral roots extending to its earliest days—but each of us had to learn for ourselves the truthfulness of its teachings. Conversion is an individual process, done in the timeline of the individual. For my grandfather, this pursuit took a lifetime. For others, it takes months or years. True conversion only comes with time and space: time studying the scriptures and kneeling in humble prayer, and the space to do this privately. A scripture in the Doctrine & Covenants—a book of modern revelations—explains this process:

You have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. …You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you (Doctrine & Covenants 9:7-8).

That is the only way we can know for ourselves and become truly converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught in The Church of Jesus Christ.

We should know the Gospel is true and be true to the Gospel - David A. BednarTime to Study the Scriptures

The pursuit of knowledge of any kind begins with study. To learn of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and His teachings requires us to read His words, which are found in the scriptures. Nephi, an ancient American prophet whose writings are found in the Book of Mormon—which is another testament of Jesus Christ, a companion scripture to the Bible, and a record of God’s dealings with the peoples who lived in the ancient Americas—explained the reason for scriptures. He said, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ” (2 Nephi 25:23).

Elder D. Todd Christofferson—a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ)—said:

Scripture tutors us in principles and moral values essential to maintaining civil society, including integrity, responsibility, selflessness, fidelity, and charity. In scripture, we find vivid portrayals of the blessings that come from honoring true principles, as well as the tragedies that befall when individuals and civilizations discard them. …

In the end, the central purpose of all scripture is to fill our souls with faith in God the Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ—faith that They exist; faith in the Father’s plan for our immortality and eternal life; faith in the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which animates this plan of happiness; faith to make the gospel of Jesus Christ our way of life; and faith to come to know “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He has] sent” (John 17:3). [1]

When one wants to know “the only true God,” one must study His words. Just as you can’t learn about science by studying Shakespeare, you can’t learn about God by studying the words of those who don’t believe He exists. The word of God is found in the scriptures and in the words of His prophets, both ancient and modern. Only through careful and prayerful study can we come to know God.

Time to Pray

Scripture study and prayer go hand in hand. Elder Richard G. Scott, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, said:

Scriptures are like packets of light that illuminate our minds and give place to guidance and inspiration from on high. They can become the key to open the channel to communion with our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. [2]

Scripture study can open the channels, and heartfelt prayer can allow the continuation of the communication with our Father in Heaven. Elder Scott said of prayer:

Prayer is a supernal gift of our Father in Heaven to every soul. Think of it: the absolute Supreme Being, the most all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful personage, encourages you and me, as insignificant as we are, to converse with Him as our Father. …

It matters not our circumstance, be we humble or arrogant, poor or rich, free or enslaved, learned or ignorant, loved or forsaken, we can address Him. We need no appointment. Our supplication can be brief or can occupy all the time needed. It can be an extended expression of love and gratitude or an urgent plea for help. He has created numberless cosmos and populated them with worlds, yet you and I can talk with Him personally, and He will ever answer. [3]

Prayer is an essential component in gaining knowledge of the gospel. Each person is entitled to his or her own answers to prayers. Sometimes the answers come while we are reading the scriptures. At other times, the answers come in lessons at church or conversations with others. They also come as feelings and inspiration from the Holy Ghost. Sometimes they take time, but they always come. We just need to ask our Father in Heaven.

Space to Do This in Private

 There are a plethora of opportunities to learn in The Church of Jesus Christ. For those who are not members of the Church but want to know more, the missionaries can teach them. Those who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ are taught during Church meetings. High school students can attend a religion class called Seminary. College students can take religion classes called Institute. All are based on the scriptures and the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And these lessons are necessary to increase our faith and knowledge. But after we are edified through the prepared lessons, we must take time to step back and internalize what we have learned. This must be done in private, in the quiet moments of reflection. This is the time that the Spirit can speak to our souls and bring us the peace and comfort of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and knowledge of the truthfulness of His gospel. Missionaries and teachers can point us in the right direction, but it is up to each individual to do the rest.

Elder David A. Bednar, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said of gaining this knowledge:

…A testimony is personal knowledge of spiritual truth obtained by revelation. A testimony is a gift from God and is available to all of His children. … Seeking for and obtaining a testimony of spiritual truth requires asking, seeking, and knocking (see Matthew 7:73 Nephi 14:7) with a sincere heart, real intent, and faith in the Savior (see Moroni 10:4). Fundamental components of a testimony are knowing that Heavenly Father lives and loves us, that Jesus Christ is our Savior, and that the fulness of the gospel has been restored to the earth in these latter days. [4]

Each Must Know for Himself

Each person must work out his or her own testimony in his or her own time. And it must be done on one’s own. A testimony is a knowledge of truth, and conversion is the willingness to follow it. Elder Bednar cites the parable of the Ten Virgins as an example of this.

Ten virgins, five who were wise and five who were foolish, took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Please think of the lamps used by the virgins as the lamps of testimony. The foolish virgins took their lamps of testimony but took no oil with them. Consider the oil to be the oil of conversion.

“But the wise took oil [of conversion] in their vessels with their lamps [of testimony]. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.

“Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps [of testimony]. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil [even the oil of conversion]; for our lamps [of testimony are weak and] are gone out.

“But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves” (Matthew 25:4–9).

Were the five wise virgins selfish and unwilling to share, or were they indicating correctly that the oil of conversion cannot be borrowed? Can the spiritual strength that results from consistent obedience to the commandments be given to another person? Can the knowledge obtained through diligent study and pondering of the scriptures be conveyed to one who is in need? Can the peace the gospel brings to a faithful Latter-day Saint be transferred to an individual experiencing adversity or great challenge? The clear answer to each of these questions is no.

As the wise virgins emphasized properly, each of us must “buy for ourselves.”

These inspired women were not describing a business transaction; rather, they were emphasizing our individual responsibility to keep our lamp of testimony burning and to obtain an ample supply of the oil of conversion. This precious oil is acquired one drop at a time—“line upon line [and] precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30), patiently and persistently. No shortcut is available; no last-minute flurry of preparation is possible. [4]

I was born and raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I took for granted that the teachings of the Church were true. But after I graduated from college and was hundreds of miles from home— living with roommates who were not members of the Church and who couldn’t care less where I went on Sunday— I realized that it was up to me to decide. My parents, Church leaders and religion teachers had helped me lay the groundwork for my testimony, but I had to choose whether I was really converted. At that moment in time, I knew that I was going to Church because I wanted to go, and I knew the teachings were true. The words of Elder Bednar rang true for me at that time, and they ring true today:

A testimony is spiritual knowledge of truth obtained by the power of the Holy Ghost. Continuing conversion is constant devotion to the revealed truth we have received—with a heart that is willing and for righteous reasons. Knowing that the gospel is true is the essence of a testimony. Consistently being true to the gospel is the essence of conversion. We should know the gospel is true and be true to the gospel. [4]

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