This is a guest post by Michael R. Conder, a member of the Berthoud ward in Berthoud, CO, where he lives with his wife and four children. A systems engineer, Michael delivered this as a sacrament talk on Sept. 14, and there were very few dry eyes in the chapel as he discussed his journey of personal discovery.
By Michael R. Conder
Joseph Smith has said, “It is the privilege of the children of God to come to God and get revelation.”
About a year ago, it had seemed I had completely forgotten that principle as I experienced a major crisis of faith. I didn’t know why at the time, but I felt disconnected from God. There were a number of issues that my family and I needed His help with, but it seemed He was not speaking to me anymore. I began to wonder if He ever had. So, I began to search for Him. Because I felt spiritually separated I turned my search into a purely intellectual pursuit.
I studied some of the right things and many of the wrong things. I didn’t read the Book of Mormon much. After all, I knew what was in it. What more could I learn from that book? When my wife would read an Ensign article to me, I would say something like, “Do you really think the answers are that simple?” And so it was, that I wandered on strange roads and wide paths, letting go of the rod and being completely overcome by the mists of darkness. Eventually, there began to be a fevered desperation to my search as I continued to feel lost and alone not really understanding why God would not speak to me as he had in the past.
I began to experience great anxiety because I felt complete alone and separated from God. I even went to see a therapist and I didn’t find God there either.
Ironically, it was a final reasoned thought that broke me free from over intellectualizing my religion. I realized that if I had the brightest mind and 1000 years to search everything mankind had ever written, I could not find or prove God this way. I was reminded of the scripture in 2 Timothy 3:7, “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” There is really no way to describe what I was involved with at the time better than that.
Finally, one night…I broke down. I began to sob and to pray. I promised I would stay on my knees until He talked to me again. I spent 4 hours on my knees that night and didn’t hear anything, so I gave up on my promise and hardened myself toward Him again. I pridefully said to myself, who else would spend 4 hours in sincere prayer for nothing. I was putting in the required effort, why was He still silent? See, He really isn’t there. Days later, I would feel broken again by the trials in my life and try again. It went on this way for several weeks.
During this time, a family member and close friend gave me a certain book by a popular LDS writer. He was adamant that I read it…so much so, that he would check in on my progress. I resented this for awhile, but finally gave in. With each passing page my heart was softened as a read about a man with a similar problem. I was about ¾ of the way through the book when I became aware of an awful truth, a truth that found me with such force; I was physically weakened by it. In a moment of perfect clarity, I was aware that the world had become my god…worldly knowledge, worldly pursuits and worldly things. These were the things that occupied all my thoughts and my time. I did not love the things of God. I did not love the scriptures, I did not love to be in Church, and I did not long to be in the Temple.
This time, I took an entirely different approach to prayer. I remember feeling truly repentant that I had let the things of the world replace the things of God in my life. I knew that I had never needed His guidance more. So, I prayed the most humble prayer I ever remembered praying. It was more than just words and in a sense more like a communion of spirit between He and I.
Personal revelation has since become a very real and very powerful part of my life.
If I had to make any observations about why I could not hear His voice and how I came to again, it would have to be that revelation requires a certain preparation of the heart. In the Book of Enos, Enos speaks of his wrestle before God and his struggling in the spirit. For me, this struggle is an attempt to find all the hard and dark places in my heart and remove them. It is recognition that I can’t change my heart on my own…for this, I need Jesus Christ. It is my attempt to make myself willing and teachable. As I struggle this way, I often feel the world falling away. My fear, my pride, the way I see myself, the way I see others changed in that moment. The Lord seems very pleased when I present myself in this way, because the times I have made this offering, I have been generously rewarded, often being completely overcome by the Spirit.
There are some very good things to learn from church leaders and the scriptures about my experience.
Joseph Smith said, “Remember that without asking we can receive nothing; therefore, ask in faith, and ye shall receive such blessings as God sees fit to bestow upon you. Pray not with covetous hearts that ye may consume it upon your lusts, but pray earnestly for the best gifts.” And “that a man could learn more about the things of God by looking into heaven for five minutes than by reading all the books ever written upon the subject of religion.”
In a March 2002 Ensign article, James E. Faust said that the first requirement to receiving revelation is “to try honestly and sincerely to keep God’s commandments.” While obedience is certainly a requirement for revelation, I believe the Lord does not require a perfect offering to have this gift. If he did, none of us would ever hear anything. What he does require is our personal best offering. For this we need to search ourselves and be completely honest with ourselves about the effort we are making to meet Him. We can’t carry on any pretenses with God about whether we are sincerely trying to keep His commandments or not. He truly sees everything that we are. This kind of self deception only hurts us and ultimately causes the kind separation I had experienced last year.
Bruce R. McConkie offered a summary of the scriptural account of Nephi and his brothers, Laman and Lemuel:
Speaking of the revelations received by his father, Nephi said: “… he truly spake many great things … which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord. …”
Of these same revelations, Laman and Lemuel said: “… we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken. …”
Nephi asked: “Have ye inquired of the Lord?”
They replied: “We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.”
Then Nephi came forth with this glorious pronouncement: “How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?
“Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.”
Trough this experience, I have learned that I cannot successfully navigate life without the gift of revelation and the constant whisperings of the spirit that come from it. I have learned that to receive this gift we are required to present ourselves before the Lord in a certain way.
It may be true that the pure in heart shall see God, but I know it’s true that those trying to be pure heart hear Him.