“This I Know,” Ensign, Dec. 1993, 26
I will never forget the powerful testimony of Leonard Smith, my former bishop, who spoke of his missionary son, who was killed by a drunken driver. “I forgive the man who killed my son and wish him no harm,” he said in a poignant testimony that expressed his love for Jesus Christ. Everyone in the congregation was deeply touched by his willingness to share these feelings.
Throughout the Church, month after month, the power of testimony bearing brings great spiritual strength to the Church as a whole and to each of us individually. We not only strengthen our wards and branches, but we enrich our own lives and help unify our families. We bear testimony of our faith in our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and of the gospel and the Lord’s blessings to us.
Bearing our testimony, after we have carefully thought through and evaluated our feelings, often helps us realize how deep our convictions really are. As we share with others our personal experiences in living the gospel, we often see more clearly principles and situations we never fully recognized before. This inward search, accompanied by the outward bearing of testimony, becomes a great source of personal spiritual strength.
Bishop Smith relates how he learned from his son’s death the power of a testimony. “I am reminded that my son asked me to write my testimony for him so he could take it with him on his mission. After praying for spiritual guidance, I typed my testimony on a single sheet of paper. After my son’s untimely death because of a drunken driver, his personal belongings were sent home. On the inside cover of his study binder, I found the much-used father’s testimony. Inside his journal, I found his testimony, written in somewhat the same style as mine, but expressing his own gospel knowledge and love for God.
“Suffice it to say that his testimony is a great strength and comfort to us. From my personal experience I feel that each year our growing testimonies might be prayerfully written and updated for our loved ones we leave on earth.”
We can also gain strength by listening to the testimonies of others. Hearing of the strength of their testimonies and the Lord’s blessings in their lives helps us feel hope that our own faith will be similarly rewarded. As we spiritually sustain the person bearing testimony, we are more sensitive to the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost can bear witness to us of the truths we are hearing. (See 2 Ne. 33:1.)
Listening to the testimonies of others is also a good way to gain a better understanding of others in our ward. Our opinions about politics, education, and finances can be very different, but if we are in accord on spiritual matters, we will feel a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood.
President Harold B. Lee stated the importance of having a testimony: “Testimony isn’t something you have today, and you are going to have always. A testimony is fragile. It is as hard to hold as a moonbeam. It is something you have to recapture every day of your life.” (Church News, 15 July 1972, p. 4.)
Each person’s testimony is individual and unique, and so are the words used to express it. We can examine several elements of testimony bearing, however, as we try to make this experience more sacred and soul-satisfying. We may want to make a personal evaluation of our own expression of testimony and create our own reminder list for spiritual improvement. The following are just a few ideas to consider.
1. Confine yourself to bearing testimony.
A testimony involves bearing witness of the Savior and his message. (See D&C 18:32–36; D&C 84:61.) A testimony is a revelation from the Holy Ghost to the individual giving knowledge that God lives, Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith is a prophet, a prophet heads the Church today, and this is “the only true and living church.” (D&C 1:30.) The revelation usually comes quietly and is felt in the heart.
As we share a brief, heartfelt testimony, we might also share a faith-promoting experience that has brought us to our knowledge of truth. It may be appropriate to tell why we have the convictions we do. However, we should avoid giving travelogues, preaching, or telling others how to live. We should be careful with the use of humor, as it may be misunderstood or detract from the Spirit.
Bearing testimony may also include expressing appreciation for our blessings, families, and Church leaders. In some cases, testimony bearing in public provides the first step in being able to express love and affection more openly. Children speaking in testimony meeting sometimes express feelings of tenderness and appreciation that might otherwise be kept to themselves. More than one parent has said, “The first time I heard our son say he loved us was at testimony meeting.”
One man stood in testimony meeting and related this story: “As a college student, I recall that while I was working at Temple Square one day, I heard President George Albert Smith bear his testimony to some visitors. Later he came over, put his arm around me, looked me in the eye, and said, ‘The Lord and I want you to prepare for a mission.’ I shall never forget the beautiful feeling I had that day that President Smith was the Lord’s prophet.” The man expressed his gratitude for his family and for other blessings and then sat down. Later, two young men talked to this man and told him that his testimony helped and inspired them to make the final decision to go on a mission.
2. Keep remarks brief, simple, and to the point.
In relating faith-promoting experiences, some details may be important, but too many can dilute the spiritual significance of our message. Keeping testimonies brief and to the point also shows consideration for others who may want to bear their testimonies.
Spencer W. Kimball states that a testimony can be given briefly: “It is amazing what you can say in 60 seconds by way of testimony, or 120, or 240, … if you confine yourselves to testimony. We’d like to know how you feel. Do you love the work, really? Are you happy in your work? Do you love the Lord? Are you glad that you are a member of the Church? …
“You have a testimony! It needs building and lifting and enlarging, of course; and that is what you are doing. Every time you bear your testimony it becomes strengthened.” (New Era, Aug. 1981, pp. 6–7.)
It is important that we not insist on bearing our testimonies after the time has come to close the meeting. To run overtime puts unnecessary pressure on the bishopric and on those from other wards who must prepare for a subsequent meeting.
A lovely college student bore her testimony, referring to the Book of Mormon. She described how the gospel is like a seed that must be cared for every day so it will grow. (See Alma 32:38–43.) “My testimony of Heavenly Father is like that seed,” she explained. “I can remember when I helped my parents with our garden and watched the seeds grow. It took weeding, water, and care for the garden to grow.” She expressed hope that we would nourish our testimonies. As she spoke, a warmth filled the chapel.
3. Bear testimony for the right reasons.
Even quiet moments during a testimony meeting can be times of worship. Concern that time is “going to waste” is not necessarily the proper motive for bearing testimony. Likewise, we should not bear testimony simply because all of our friends are doing it, although their example can certainly be a good motivation.
We should avoid bearing testimony simply out of habit and be aware that it is not obligatory to stand and bear testimony every month. When the same children or adults bear testimony in fast meeting each month, they may curtail others’ opportunities to speak.
An eight-year-old girl, Katy, recently stood and shared her happiness about her baptism. She said she was thrilled that her father was able to baptize her, and she sincerely thanked her family and friends for their love. She said, “I am so happy that I belong to a church where everybody loves me.” A little later an elderly man stood and said, “Like Katy, I too love coming to a church where everyone loves me.”
4. Do not be afraid of feeling some emotion.
Sometimes, when words are inadequate to express the feelings of our heart, tears seem to be a natural vehicle. Also, it is common for nervousness to make us feel emotional. Regardless of the reasons for emotion, we should not let this keep us from sharing our testimony. The beauty of testimony bearing lies partly in the fact that people share feelings dearest to them.
At one meeting, a divorced mother in her late forties struggled through her tears and sensitive emotions as she bore a strong testimony of Heavenly Father and the Savior Jesus Christ. She testified that daily prayer, scripture reading, and her testimony gave her strength to carry on. She said, “My testimony has been my anchor and my stay, my joy and gladness in times of joy and times of great discouragement and suffering.”
Glen, a teacher for more than thirty years, lost his wife to cancer. In one meeting he testified that his great trial in life has been to be steadfast in the gospel after the death of his wife. “I have spent a lot of time on my knees,” he said. “My experiences have given me a better understanding of the path that Jesus walked.”
5. Share a testimony, even if it is not strong.
A person may bear an honest testimony that consists more of hope than of conviction. Yet he is doing exactly what a person with a mature testimony is doing: expressing his honest, innermost feelings. To bear testimony of a single gospel principle can be inspiring.
Elder Boyd K. Packer has said, “A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it! … To speak out is the test of your faith.” (Ensign, Jan. 1983, p. 54.)
We should have the courage to say “I know.” Some may think this is a trite expression, but “I know” remains a powerful and moving phrase when spoken with sincere conviction. We should say “I believe” if, in fact, we only believe and do not yet know for sure.
Like knowledge of the gospel, a testimony grows “line upon line and precept upon precept,” following study, prayer, and application of each gospel precept. This process turns doubt into conviction and conversion. A testimony borne of a newly understood principle, along with the sharing of a spiritual experience, increases the commitment of the bearer and inspires others to live the principle themselves.
In one meeting, an immigrant woman from Vietnam, sensitive about her lack of fluency in the English language, stood silent for several minutes, then said, “Brothers and sisters, my testimony not big, but it growing. I know God lives, I love Church, Savior, and prophet.” Then she sat down. In those minutes of silence, she taught us that some of the most beautiful feelings in a testimony meeting are not communicated from mouth to ear, but are communicated spirit to spirit.
6. Remember, testimony time is not confession time.
We should avoid discussing our faults and sins and the weaknesses and sins of others. Such matters should be handled on a one-to-one basis in a spirit of love. It is much more uplifting and motivating if we relate faith-promoting experiences that demonstrate the Lord’s help.
7. Speak so all can hear.
It is important to help ward members understand our testimonies by speaking clearly and slowly. If we use a microphone, we should speak directly into it by holding it four to six inches away so the sound does not become distorted.
8. Use wisdom in telling sacred experiences.
It is not appropriate to reveal intimate details of sacred experiences or to relate the confidential experiences of others. Be very careful about quoting from your patriarchal blessing because of its sacred nature. You should never relate stories about others’ patriarchal blessings without permission. Share personal experiences only as you feel the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
Equally as important as improving our own testimony bearing is helping our children learn to bear inspiring testimonies.
Although children are limited in knowledge and experience, they have positive feelings about the gospel which they can learn to recognize and share. They should be taught early in life to bear their testimonies, to recognize their blessings, and to express appreciation.
During an outing at Santa Cruz Beach in California, a family was swimming in the ocean. Jerry, fourteen, became caught in an undercurrent near a rock and disappeared. Family members prayed as they searched desperately and then rejoiced at finding him, breathless but safe on the other side of the rock. That night the family’s prayers acknowledged gratitude for the Lord’s protecting care that day. Later, testimony was borne, uplifting others.
Parents can use such experiences to help children identify and express spiritual feelings. Family home evenings and other family gatherings are ideal settings for these early testimony-building experiences. When families share these experiences in their homes, parents do not need to take their children to the stand and coach each word.
When a young family lost a grandfather to cancer, the parents felt the need to remind the children of the concept of the Resurrection. The grandfather was a faithful man, loved by friends and family. Several home evenings were devoted to the subject. Later in an informal family testimony meeting, their son, Jonathan, then three, demonstrated that the teachings had struck home. “I know where Grandpa Driggs is,” he said. “He went home to live with Jesus and Heavenly Father. I want to go there when I die.”
As parents, we should help children understand that bearing a testimony is a spiritual experience and that it is not a means of attracting personal attention. We should teach them that bearing their testimony is sharing their love and experiences, that it is a means of learning of and expressing gratitude for the Savior, that it can make them feel good as they express their feelings about their blessings. To mimic others prevents the child from understanding what a true testimony is and may lead him to think he has a testimony as soon as he can use the vocabulary of a testimony.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are commanded to bear witness of his reality and divinity, his ministry and message. Fast Sunday can be the most spiritual of all Sabbaths, especially if we come to testimony meeting in a spirit of fasting, prayer, and testimony bearing. We will feel a strong desire to renew our sacred covenants; our physical desires will be subdued; our spiritual senses will become highly receptive. The scriptures promise that “whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” (1 Jn. 4:15.) Elsewhere, we are reminded that “the testimony which [we] have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon.” (D&C 62:3.) When we bear our testimonies, we will be prepared to be taught by the Spirit as we declare our faith.