Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Blake Ostler on Personal Spiritual Experiences

Blake Ostler's talk, "Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment," resonates deeply with some of my personal experiences. I'm touched that he would share some of these personal experiences and use them to help us understand the challenge of knowing God for ourselves. Here's an excerpt that involves not only the quest that led to his testimony, but an amazing example of listening to the Spirit to literally save another life:
Now I have, in listening to experiences of others, come to believe that what they have experienced is very much like what I've experienced; but I don't believe that it could be identical or that I could even know whether it's identical. I only know when I was about 14 years of age, like Joseph Smith when he walked into the grove, I watched a very interesting show. It was Brigham Young. In fact it had a very interesting actor in it, Dean Jagger; no, not that Dean Jagger, the other one. This Dean Jagger, when he was 80 years old, became baptized as a Mormon, by the way. But I didn't know that at the time. I watched the movie and toward the end of the movie Brigham Young is about to go tell all of the Saints that he's actually a fraud, that he's not really a prophet. And then the seagulls come in and swoop down and eat the crickets and save his bacon so he doesn't have to make this confession. And even to a 14 year old, it dawned on me that if that's the way it really was, it wasn't worth committing a life to. And I was not going to commit a life because there were things that looked a lot better to my 14 year old eyes than going to church every Sunday, believe me. And so I went to my very, very wise mother and I asked her, "Mom, where can I read about Brigham Young?" And she said, "I don't know, maybe the Doctrine and Covenants."

Now as you all know, there's not much about Brigham Young in the Doctrine and Covenants, but I read it anyway. I took on the goal of reading ten sections a day. And I remember somewhere around the second day having come to the firm conclusion that I wished I could know like Joseph Smith knew whether he was a prophet, but I didn't believe anybody could know that. I didn't believe that it would be possible. You see, that was long in the past and there's no way to know what he personally experienced; the man I really wanted to know. And so with every page, with every paragraph, with every sentence, and every word in every sentence, I asked the same question, "Is this true? Are there clues here to suggest that this is worth committing my life to?" About the third day it began to dawn on me that my life was not in accordance with what I was reading, and I remember very simply getting down on my knees and saying, "I've been really stupid, forgive me." And what I experienced was if somebody took fuller's soap and washed me from the inside out. I knew that I'd been forgiven, and I sat down and began to read again. Somewhere around the eighth day I was sitting on my bed reading all about Brigham Young in the Doctrine and Covenants. And you can guess the sections I was reading because on the eighth day I would have begun with section 80 and gone through section 90. And as I read, my heart burned within me, and I knew. I knew that my heart was burning. I knew I wasn't creating it, and I knew it was an answer to what I thought was impossible to know. And even a 14 year old like me could figure that out.

Now, I want to talk a bit about this experience. At that point in my life I was merely a spiritual neophyte like we all begin. About a year later I had, like Joseph Smith had, fallen into some disreputable conduct again notwithstanding the fuller's soap that had cleaned my soul. But I was, in fact, just across the street from where we sit right now in Jordan High School. I was going into an assembly and I was seated on the stairs to go into the gymnasium. (In fact, where I'm standing now is where I had my first automobile accident on the driving course, but that's beside the point {laughter}). I was going into the gymnasium and a girl that I barely knew came and sat down by me. She was a Senior and I was a Sophomore, and she was pretty and I was intimidated. Now normally I would have never said anything to her because to speak to a pretty Senior girl when you're a lowly Sophomore is just simply verboten. But there was nothing I could do to stop from saying, "I know this is going to sound really strange, but I have a message to you from our Heavenly Father. He wants you to stop thinking about suicide." And her eyes got real big and her jaw dropped and she said, "How did you know?" And I told her as honestly as I could, mustering all the courage I had, "I don't know; I simply know." And she explained to me that she had laid out on her bed stand a whole bottle of pills that she was going to go home and take right after that assembly. In fact, the next day she came and told me that I'd literally saved her life. And it dawned on me at that moment in my life, "What if I hadn't listened?" What if, instead, I had gone to my head and thought it through? What if I had relied on my own noggin? Well, the answer's very simple, she would be dead. She's not, she's a mother and she's doing well.
The article goes on to explore the deep issue of knowing God and gaining a testimony. But I am especially touched by his story of daring to speak inspired words to an intimidating female.

For me, age 14 was also the time when I concluded that if the Church weren't actually true, then no matter how fine it seemed, I didn't want to make the sacrifices it asked (tithing, mission, etc.) or stand for something wrong. That led to my quest with the Book of Mormon, with a powerful experience (even a series of experiences) related to Brother Ostler's. And along the way, in the following years, I have to credit a couple of inspired females who listened to the Spirit and took some personal risk to speak inspired words to me at key junctures in my life to help me avoid destructive paths. How grateful I am for their courage and kindness, and for some of the other gentle but direct nudges I received over the years.

That intimidating stranger we meet - or perhaps an old friend - may be someone whose life can be changed with a few inspired words. How vital that we stay close to the Lord each day so that when He wants us to do something, we can listen and act. And when we listen and act, when we serve others by following the promptings of the Spirit, we will often find some of the most powerful testimony-building experiences in our own lives.

Testimony comes from more than just sitting in a cave praying. The strongest testimonies involve study, prayer, and active faith expressed through service and labor for others and for the cause of Zion. In my experience, those who have the faith to not only study the Book of Mormon but also do their home teaching or visiting teaching or other acts of selfless service are much more likely to develop solid testimonies that can withstand the assaults of the Adversary.

Testimony floundering? Have you prayed for the families you are responsible for? Done any meaningful service for them? Done anything to help the needy? Pray and exercise faith in doing good, and the influence of the Spirit in your life will be all the stronger, based on what I've seen. But don't do this for yourself, please, but remember that the people we serve really do need the help we give, and in some cases, can make the difference between life and death.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

Thanks for this post. This has been the best spiritual confirmation of the restored gospel I have had in some time. A great testimony.

Bookslinger said...

I received my first testimony of God and Christ when I was 14 too.

Ryan said...

NM, this whole talk is about your question of how to decide whether spiritual experiences are from God or your own fevered brain. Might want to read it!

(Sorry for posting on a dead thread... I've been busy)

astrology said...

Well, all of us have different spiritual experience. What matters is on how we use that experience in our lives, how we become better persons with it and on how we interpret it.