“How can I develop greater faith?” Ensign, Feb. 1978, 24–25
Larry A. Hiller, managing editor, International Magazines I’m sure many of us have asked ourselves that question at one time or another, especially when we read scriptures such as Hebrews 11:6 [Heb. 11:6], where it says that “without faith it is impossible to please [God].”
I can feel great empathy with the father of the afflicted child in Mark 9:24 when he cried out, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” I think he was saying, “My heart knows that thou art the Master, but my mind is besieged by doubts. Please help me withstand them.”
In my own life there was a time when I found myself wondering why I was not able to exercise more faith, especially since I felt I had a testimony that God lives and that he is perfect and is able to do all things. As I pondered and prayed about the matter, I came to the realization that while I believed in our Father in heaven and his love and power, I was unsure of my own worthiness to receive the blessings I desired. I was also unsure at times that what I wanted was the Lord’s will—or at least wasn’t contrary to his will.
As I went on to study the subject and to try to gain greater faith myself, I discovered some key principles that are important for anyone who desires greater faith. They by no means cover the entire subject, but they are an important beginning.
In his Lectures on Faith, the Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “An actual knowledge to any person, that the course of life which he pursues is according to the will of God, is essentially necessary to enable him to have that confidence in God without which no person can obtain eternal life.” (Lecture Sixth:2; italics added.)
That word confidence has helped me to better understand what faith is. It reminds me of those powerful verses in the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants. There the Lord enumerates some important principles upon which the priesthood must operate—long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, unfeigned love, kindness, charity, purity of thought, etc.—and promises “then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” (See D&C 121:41–45; italics added.)
I have found this to be true. Our ability to exercise faith seems to depend in great measure on our confidence in our own righteousness. I don’t think that we are expected to live a perfect life before we can have any faith, but certainly we must be constantly working toward perfection. Our keeping of the commandments and our participation in the Church should be more than just routine and perfunctory. There needs to be an earnest desire, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness. We need to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause.” (D&C 58:27; italics added.) We need to have communion with our Father in heaven, rather than just say prayers.
In conjunction with worthiness, as it relates to faith, Joseph Smith made particular mention of the principle of sacrifice. He said that the degree of faith necessary to “lay hold on eternal life” requires the sacrifice of all earthly things, not even withholding one’s life. “It is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.” (Lecture Sixth:7.)
Now, the mention of sacrificing all earthly things and of laying down one’s life may conjure up images of giving all of our possessions to the Church or of suffering martyrdom for the sake of the truth. This may or may not be required of us at some time—although I believe the willingness must certainly be there. Yet we can sacrifice all earthly things by concentrating on laying up treasures in heaven. And we can give our lives by devoting them to service in the kingdom.
I think we learn to sacrifice in the same way that we gain mastery over other gospel principles—step by step. When we make sacrifices, even though they seem small when compared to the sacrifice of one’s life, the result is an increase in confidence before the Lord.
For example, payment of tithing helps us increase our faith. When we pay a full tithing and are generous in our fast offerings and financial commitments to the Church, doesn’t it help us to be confident when we go to the Lord for help with problems, financial and otherwise? I find that it does.
And when we sacrifice other things in order to obtain our year’s supply, as the prophets have counseled us to do, don’t we have less anxiety about the future? Don’t we feel that we will be able to call on the Lord to aid in ways beyond our abilities?
If one has a calling in the Church and he sacrifices his personal time to fulfill that calling, doesn’t he feel more confidant in going to the Lord for help in meeting other obligations?
As we grow in righteousness and as we learn to sacrifice, our faith grows stronger. Elder Bruce R. McConkie states: “Faith is a gift of God bestowed as a reward for personal righteousness. It is always given when righteousness is present, and the greater the measure of obedience to God’s laws, the greater will be the endowment of faith.” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 264.)
Now, as we strive to live righteously and to develop greater faith, I think it is important to remember that there is one who does not want us to have faith. Satan often reminds us of our numerous small failings and weaknesses in order to discourage us and lessen our effectiveness. I remember once how, after a calling in the Church had come to me, I went through a terrible agony of doubt about my worthiness. Then, when I was set apart I received an assurance from the one giving the blessing that I was considered worthy. I had not expressed those doubts to anyone, so the assurance had come as a revelation, and I was comforted and encouraged. My confidence was restored.
Many have similar doubts from time to time. They may come to a priesthood bearer when he is asked to give a blessing to someone who is ill. There is an instant recall of angry words, unworthy thoughts, duties undone. Regardless of whether such recollections are prompted by Satan or by our own minds, the more righteously we are living, the less ammunition can be used against us. Then, too, if we have developed a personal relationship with our Father in heaven, freely confessing our sins and making use of the principle of repentance, we can be comfortable in asking the Lord to grant our desires in spite of our remaining faults.
One other pitfall I would like to mention in connection with faith is the tendency to become impatient. We read or hear faith-promoting stories about healings, calming of storms, etc., that are almost instantaneous. We wonder why it is not so in our case. Because the Lord doesn’t act immediately on our request, we begin to think he will not act at all. But we need to remember that the Lord has enjoined us to wait patiently upon him. (See D&C 98:2.) Patience is part of faith.
Righteous living, then, including making the sacrifices required of us, is necessary before we can obtain sufficient faith in the Lord. Combined with this we must be patient; and we must remember that the Lord will be merciful if we are truly striving to overcome sin in our lives, although we are not yet perfect.
Since faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel (A of F 1:4), and since we have been admonished to “seek … earnestly the best gifts” (D&C 46:8), the gift of faith is one that every Latter-day Saint should actively seek. Surely it is a gift the Lord desires each of us to have.