As anyone knows who has been camping, it takes a lot of work to kindle a fire and to keep it burning brightly, especially when confronted with the challenges of wind or rain. Likewise, it takes constant spiritual effort to kindle and maintain the fire of faith in the face of criticism and doubt. Just as blocking wind or rain alone cannot kindle a fire, it is impossible to kindle the fire of faith by responding to criticism and doubt alone. Elder M. Russell Ballard related an interesting story to demonstrate this point:
When I was a mission president, a fine elder came to me. I asked, ‘How can I help you?’
‘President,’ he said, ‘I think I’m losing my testimony.’
I asked him how that could be possible.
‘For the first time I have read some anti-Mormon literature,’ he said. ‘I have some questions, and nobody will answer them for me. I am confused, and I think I am losing my testimony.’
I asked him what his questions were, and he told me. They were the standard anti-Church issues, but I wanted a little time to gather materials so I could provide meaningful answers. So we set up an appointment ten days later, at which time I told him I would answer every one of his questions. As he started to leave, I stopped him. ‘Elder, you’ve asked me several questions here today,’ I said. ‘Now I have one for you.’
‘How long has it been since you’ve read from the Book of Mormon?’ I asked.
His eyes dropped. He looked at the floor for a while. Then he looked at me. ‘It’s been a long time, President,’ he confessed.
‘All right,’ I said. ‘You have given me my assignment. It’s only fair that I give you yours. I want you to promise me that you will read in the Book of Mormon for at least one hour every day between now and our next appointment.’ He agreed that he would do that.
Ten days later he returned to my office, and I was ready. I pulled out my papers to start answering his questions. But he stopped me.
‘President,’ he said, ‘that isn’t going to be necessary.’ Then he explained, ‘I know that the Book of Mormon is true. I know Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.’
‘Well, that’s great,’ I said. ‘But you’re going to get answers to your questions anyway. I worked a long time on this, so you just sit there and listen.’
And so I answered all of those questions, and then asked, ‘Elder, what have you learned from this?’ And he said, ‘Give the Lord equal time.’
(M. Russell Ballard, How to Find Safety and Peace)
As we grapple with questions and doubts, do we “give the Lord equal time” by reading the Book of Mormon, praying sincerely, and doing other things that kindle the fire of faith? Do we continue attending church, serving others, and trying to “exercise a particle of faith” (Alma 32:27)?
This doesn’t mean we should “simply brush the question[s] off” or tell those who question “to not worry about [their] question[s]…. This is not the Lord’s way” (M. Russell Ballard, To the Saints of the Utah Salt Lake Area). It is vital to seek faithful answers and informed responses to our questions. But, as we do so, we must also diligently “seek the Lord” (Deuteronomy 4:29). He pleads, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me…” (D&C 88:63). In short, we need to protect our faith from the wind and rain of criticism and doubt while continually and diligently supplying spiritual fuel for our fire of faith.
If left unattended for long, a raging bonfire can quickly diminish to embers and grow cold. Each of us must vigilantly monitor our own individual fire of faith. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin gave inspired counsel on how we can assess our own individual fire of faith:
Unfortunately, some in the Church may believe sincerely that their testimony is a raging bonfire when it really is little more than the faint flickering of a candle. Their faithfulness has more to do with habit than holiness, and their pursuit of personal righteousness almost always takes a back seat to their pursuit of personal interests and pleasure. With such a feeble light of testimony for protection, these travelers on life’s highways are easy prey for the wolves of the adversary….
[T]he Lord understands you and me when our testimonies may not be the brightly burning bonfire you may think they are or want them to be. Perhaps in some cases, that testimony is constructed unwisely, built on a social foundation of programs and personalities instead of the sure rock of personal revelation. Or perhaps you have allowed your testimony to flicker gradually through the years of disuse and spiritual complacency.
Regardless of the reason your testimony may be growing dim, the Savior lovingly urges you to come unto Him and become strengthened in Him….
Some people are weak in their faith and testimonies but are not even aware of how precarious their situation is. Many of them likely would be offended at the suggestion. They raise their right hand to sustain Church leaders and then murmur and complain when a decision does not square with their way of thinking. They claim to be obedient to God’s commandments but do not feel at all uncomfortable about purchasing food at the store on Sunday and then asking the Lord to bless it. Some say they would give their lives for the Lord, yet they refuse to serve in the nursery.
The Savior spoke very explicitly about people who ‘draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me.’ (Isa. 29:13.) His words were: ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
‘Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
‘And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.’ (Matt. 7:21-23.)
None would want to hear the Lord speak such disappointing words of you. That is why you need to do everything in your power to be absolutely certain that your spiritual bonfire of testimony is burning brightly enough to keep the wolves of darkness away. You can always use more dry kindling.
(Joseph B. Wirthlin, Spiritual Bonfires of Testimony)
President Russell M. Nelson recently gave powerful prophetic counsel for those who are struggling to maintain the fire of faith:
If you have doubts about God the Father and His Beloved Son or the validity of the Restoration or the veracity of Joseph Smith’s divine calling as a prophet, choose to believe and stay faithful. Take your questions to the Lord and to other faithful sources. Study with the desire to believe rather than with the hope that you can find a flaw in the fabric of a prophet’s life or a discrepancy in the scriptures. Stop increasing your doubts by rehearsing them with other doubters. Allow the Lord to lead you on your journey of spiritual discovery.
(Russell M. Nelson, Christ Is Risen; Faith in Him Will Move Mountains)
Our fire of faith is kindled by the conscientious choice to believe. As we “study with the desire to believe,” we add dry kindling to the fire. But, “increasing [our] doubts by rehearsing them with other doubters” is like abandoning our fire to the wind and rain.
[H]e that believed these things which I have spoken, him will I visit with the manifestations of my Spirit, and he shall know and bear record. For because of my Spirit he shall know that these things are true… [But], he that will not believe my words will not believe me–that I am….
The intentional choice to believe proceeds “the manifestations of [the] Spirit” that bring knowledge and understanding. But, those who “will not believe” can never come to know or understand. They “[can]not understand the word of God” “because of their unbelief” (Mosiah 26:3). “[W]hosoever believeth on my words, them will I visit with the manifestations of my Spirit” (D&C 5:16).
At FAIR, we continue committed to providing “Faithful Answers, Informed Response” to those whose fires of faith are threatened by the “mighty winds” and “mighty storm” of “the devil” (Helaman 5:12), but only you can choose to kindle the fire of your faith. As you do so, the light of your fire will grow “brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).