I’ve chosen to speak to you all today about something that I’ve learned a lot about recently, and hopefully what I say to you will build you up and help you feel the Spirit’s presence, because I’ve been praying fervently that it will.
Before I begin, I want to ask you all a question that you can ponder in your minds for a few minutes. What is faith? We often say, “Have faith, the Lord will carry you through,” and we say, “I have faith in Jesus Christ,” but the word often goes undefined, left to the individual to personally define for his or herself. Consider in your mind what that means for a few minutes.
Many of you know the story of Abraham and Isaac, but for those of you who don’t, let me tell it. In Genesis chapter 22, we have a prophet named Abraham. Now the Lord spoke to Abraham and commanded him to take his son, Isaac, to a certain mountain, and to sacrifice his son on an alter. Now let’s stop there for a second. So its obvious that, instinctively, we would all say no to sacrificing one of our children, let alone, his only son. But not Abraham. He had faith in the Lord enough to tell himself, “You know what, I don’t want to do this thing that the Lord has asked of me, but I have faith in Him, and whatever He asks of me, I must do.” That takes intense trust. And so, fortunately for Abraham, Isaac, and for the nail-biting Bible reader, an angel stops Abraham moments before he kills his son, and says, “Because you came this far, and have withheld nothing, even your only son, you will be blessed exceedingly.” It’s examples like these that give us a good goal for what our faith should be like, and how deep it should be.
Now, someone could, and probably would, argue with this. They could say, “Ryan, in these modern times, it is unrealistic to put that much trust in the Lord, it’s dangerous and reckless, it’s blind obedience, and anyone who submits themselves to that is foolish.” I testify that that is not true. As we show faith in the Lord by following His commandments, even the toughest ones, He blesses us observably. And so, we can, and should, strive to have faith like Abraham’s.
Now back to my question: what is faith? I think faith could be correctly defined in different ways, but here are a few that I certainly agree with. Faith is trust. I have faith, or trust, in Jesus Christ and His Gospel. It often means religious beliefs. What faith do you belong to or practice? In this church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or, get ready, La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Ultimos Dias, we have a book of scripture called the Book of Mormon, which is an account of God’s people here in the America’s, and which testifies of Jesus Christ. It goes hand-in-hand with the Bible in helping us to become better followers of Jesus Christ. In this book, there is a prophet named Alma, and he defines faith in this way, “…faith is not to have a perfect of knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” So faith could be defined as hope for things that are not seen.
Well, these are all good. But there’s a definition that I think trumps them all. One of the apostles of the Church, named Boyd K. Packer, said this: “Faith is a real power, not just an expression of belief.” Hmm, it’s a power? Google says that power is “The ability to do something…” and the Merriam-Webster dictionary says that it is “the ability to act or produce an effect.” That means that REAL faith can DO things, in the lives of those possessing such faith, and in the lives of those surrounding them. It doesn’t just mean “Oh, I believe, I have faith,” it changes our lives for the better. The eyes of our understanding are opened as we show faith by the way we live our lives. As we exercise faith, we are blessed to see things from a point of view that is wider than our own. Faith un-clouds our minds, and helps us to see things through God’s window. Keep in mind, Elder Packer does say “not just an expression of belief”, because it is an expression of belief, but that is not all. It is so much more. To say “I have faith in Jesus Christ” is meaningful, but when we really have faith, to have such trust in the Lord that we will follow His every commandment, we are empowered beyond expectation.
Now allow me to present yet another rebuttal. Some may say, “Having enough faith to do everything God asks? I don’t want that! I want a mind of my own, I want to think for myself and make my own decisions. You restrict yourselves and miss out on the pleasure in life by believing such things.” Again I testify, that that is not true. The laws and commandments of God are put in place, not to make life boring or to make us unhappy, not to restrict us or to bind us, but to set us free. God loves us more than we will ever understand, so He has laid things out for us in a way that, if we follow, we will find the fullest of joys that we possibly can on this Earth. It’s absolutely intuitive! It makes perfect sense, and yet we, and especially me, sometimes choose to not follow.
A lack of faith, or at least a temporary weakness thereof, is the reason we sin. The reason we sometimes fail to resist temptation is because we temporarily forget that God has promised us the highest level of happiness if we simply say “no” to that temptation. Think about it this way: imagine me back when I was 10, when I still listened to my dad. I wasn’t as proud back then. Imagine him saying to me, “Ryan, I know In n Out is good, I know it’s really good, but in the long term, if you have it too much, it will actually hurt you, even though you enjoy it in the moment. So don’t eat it, have a salad instead. Put some strawberries in it, cook up a couple eggs, have some wheat toast with no butter, and have a glass of milk with it all. It may not taste as good, but it won’t be horrible. And after you eat it, you will feel great. You’ll want to run a marathon, you won’t be tired, you’ll have energy, your mind will work at it’s full potential, and you’ll even be a happier person.” Now that sounds pretty good right! That’s something that all of us want! So, now imagine me, a month later, still 10 years old, but for some reason I can drive a car. And so I go pick up all my friends, and we’re just driving around, music’s playing, the windows are down. We’re all having a good time, and one of my buddies goes, “Man, I’m hungry!” So everyone decides to go get food, but they choose to go to In n Out. So I convince myself that I won’t get anything to eat. And so we head over there, and everyone orders food, and my turn to order is last. So everyone looks back at quiet me, and I say, “My dad told me not to eat this, he said it’s unhealthy. I won’t get anything,” at which point they all start laughing and saying things like, “You still listen to your dad?” and, “Who cares if its unhealthy? It’s so good! Worry about now!” I’m sitting there listening to all this mockery, and I momentarily doubt what my dad told me, or even forget it entirely. So I order a number one, with no onions and a Dr. Pepper, and we all wolf down our food. And it’s gooooood. Man, it is so good, but afterward, I feel like my arteries are clogging, just for like ten minutes or so, and then it goes away. And I’m like, “Hey, that wasn’t that bad!” and begin trusting myself, and my friends, more than I trust my father. So for the next, let’s say, 10 years, me and all my friends go get the same thing at In n Out for lunch every day, because it’s so fun and so good. But because I’m always at In n Out, I rarely see my father anymore. And when I realize that 10 years later, I remember what he said to me about how it would be bad in the long term if I ate it too much. And so I go to see myself in the mirror, and I look totally different. I’ve gained so much weight that my clothes don’t fit me anymore. I have bags under my eyes, it’s hard to breath, I’m missing a shoe, and let’s say I now have diabetes. Well, he was right. Who would have guessed? I should have.
I’m no good at story-telling, so you may be wondering what the heck that weird 10-year-old hijacking diabetes story was all about. Let me tell you. I knew what was good for me, but in the moment of truth, I had dismissed and forgotten it. If I had had stronger faith in what my father had told me, I probably wouldn’t have failed to resist what the world was tempting me to do. If you haven’t figured it out yet, my father is Heavenly Father. I am you. And my friends are the world, full of temptation and mockery. And what we can learn from this story is that with strong enough faith, we can resist all temptation. That is our defense against the thing which attacks us all. Have faith. Don’t forget the commandments, and most importantly, don’t forget what Christ has done for you. The parable I just created has at least one small flaw, and I’m wondering if any of you noticed it. Diabetes is not reversible, once you have it, it’s an unwanted, life-long companion. However, when we blatantly and continually disobey Heavenly Father, He waits for us to stop, then says, “Are you done? Do you see now why I gave you these commandments? Come back, and you will be made clean.” And boom, with some repentance, the diabetes is gone.
How can we build faith? How can I take the faith that I have, and turn it into more faith? For the last year or so I’ve dabbled in the stock market. Now don’t be fooled, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, but I at least understand the principles of investment. So, in order to invest, you have to spend money on something, and the whole idea is that, whatever that thing is will grow in value, after which you sell it and the difference between the amount at which it was sold, and the amount at which it was initially purchased, is the money that you make. Faith is similar in many ways. If we expend and test our faith in certain ways, it will grow. Here’s an example: say a girl wants to know if God exists. She hasn’t seen Him, and she hasn’t talked to Him, but she gets this feeling that tells her that He may still be there. So she’s lying in bed one night, thinking about it, and “[she comes] to the conclusion that [she] must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else…ask of God.” So she slides out of her bed, onto her knees, as many of us often do, and she begins to pray. Does God answer prayers? He absolutely does, so we can safely assume that this example is no exception. Were this you or me, brothers and sisters, I promise that an answer would be found, in the positive, that God is there, and that He loves us. Maybe not immediately, but it would come.
In the New Testament, James, chapter 1 verse 5, it says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him [or her] ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, [freely], and…it shall be given him [or her].” God. Answers. Prayers. But it also says, “Let him [or her] ask in faith…” Also in the New Testament, Luke chapter 17 verse 6, it says, “If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.” Have any of you ever seen a mustard seed? It’s diameter is 1/20th of an inch wide. That’s 1.27 millimeters. Now faith isn’t tangible, therefore immeasurable, but it’s quite safe for us to assume that if we exercised the tiniest amount of faith, comparable to a mustard seed, we could command the Earth. Therefore, if we prayed to know the truth, exercising a micro measurable amount of faith, God would give it to us liberally. On a quick side note, that is a perfect scriptural example that faith is an actual power. With faith, seas can be tamed, and mountains can be moved. Literally. Isn’t that so cool?
Another way we can invest our faith is by helping others. Henry B. Eyring said, “It is serving God and others persistently with full heart and soul that turns testimony of truth into unbreakable spiritual strength.” In my book, spiritual strength and faith are the same thing. So he says that serving others with full heart and soul turns our mere belief into unbreakable faith. And I can testify that that is true from experience. It is when I forget myself and devote my time to bearing others people’s burdens and lifting them up that my faith is at it’s strongest.
There are many inspiring stories of people’s faith. One is of the early Saints of this Church, enduring their roles as victims of crimes they did nothing to deserve, and traveling across the Great Plains to settle in an area where they could worship God without persecution. They endured unimaginable hardship, but maintained their unbreakable faith, and we as modern members of this Church admire them as we try to adopt and internalize that kind of steadfastness. Christ also had faith as He endured the atonement, as he suffered the guilt of all humanity, and was nailed to the cross.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.