This entry is based on a talk given by Elder David A. Bednar given in February 2006, and it also has links with a Mission Conference given by Elder Bednar in the Leeds Mission in September 2009.
When we study the word of God – we need to allow the Spirit to be there. Like with any investigator, it’s the Spirit that truly teaches us. It opens the pathway into our heart. “…the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men…” (2 Nephi 33:1). We must invite the Holy Ghost, then we can be taught and allow the Spirit to work within our heart.
In my last entry (Enos’s Pattern of Faith), the cycle of ‘assurance->action->evidence’ was discussed. The same needs to happen in our study if we desire a more effective, revelatory experience as we study. There are a couple of great examples of this in the scriptures. Nephi, when asked to retrieve the plates from Laban, had the assurance being spoken about. He says “I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. Nevertheless I went forth…” (1 Nephi 4:6-7). He was led by the Spirit, thus he knew with a powerful assurance, that he would be led right.
Elder Bednar wonderfully explains the relationship between these three elements of faith. He says “These three elements of faith…are not separate and discrete; rather, they are interrelated and continuous and cycle upward. And the faith that fuels this ongoing process develops and evolves and changes.” As we practise this cycle – like a muscle, it’ll get stronger with more and more use.
An excellent example of these three elements is found with Joshua, the children of Israel and the ark of the covenant. They had to cross the river Jordan to move forward. So the Lord promised “…as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the Lord…shall rest in the waters of Jordan…the waters of Jordan shall be cut off…and they shall stand upon a heap…” (Joshua 3:13). So the priests with the Ark of the Covenant went in. It is interesting to note that they had to get their feet wet before it would happen. They had the assurance from the Lord and they had to act – and of course “…the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan…” (Joshua 3:17). They received the evidence that their faith was correctly placed in the God of Israel. Please note that they had to wet their feet in the river before they received that evidence – they jumped and the Lord moved the ‘light’ with them – that is how faith grows.
The principle of learning by faith hinges heavily on the person’s agency to choose, and not being acted upon. For example, when Adam and Eve hid themselves from God in the Garden of Eden, God asked “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9) and “Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree…?” (Genesis 3:11). God, being omniscient, would know where Adam and Eve were and what had occurred (let’s not forget this was part of the Plan of Salvation before Adam and Eve even stepped foot in the Garden). This was a learning experience for them, rather than the Lord finding them out. Another example – Jesus walking through a crowd was touched on His garments by a woman, desiring to be made whole. Christ asked “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30) and then “…the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth.” (Mark 5:33). This was the Son of God – He knew who had touched His robe, she knew this woman more than she herself did – but He allowed her to come forward and learn for herself. In both of these situations, the learner acted for themselves – coming forward to the light – and grew from the experience.
“Learning by faith requires spiritual, mental and physical exertion and not just passive reception,” stated Elder Bednar. Just like Moroni 10:4 says, we need to “ask with a sincere heart, with real intent…” – we show our sincerity by our action and then we will receive our answers. For example – Joseph Smith, as a young man, went to a grove of trees to pray. He prepared himself to “ask in faith” (James 1:6). Not only this but he went with a sincere intent to act. He said “My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join…I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong…” (JSH 1:18-19). Joseph asked, not only for the knowledge of which Church was right, but also which he should join – what he should do! If we desire to seek learning by faith, we must also be willing to act on the answer – or else, how can we expect that answer? God knows the intents of our hearts so if we are not prepared to act but wish for an answer, we need to change.
Now, as teachers – whether we are leaders, missionaries, parents – we need to relay these principles to our ‘students’. However, Elder Bednar highlighted implications it has on us:
1) – “The Holy Ghost is the only true teacher.”
We need to remember that no matter how well planned and prepared we are, no matter how eloquent we are, if we don’t have the Spirit as we teach then our teaching won’t be effective. We are not the teachers – the Holy Ghost is. Elder Bednar uses a great analogy of a fibre-optic cable. “…you and I are much like the long, thin strands of glass used to create the fibre-optic through which light signals are transmitted…Just as the glass in these cables must be pure to conduct the light efficiently and effectively, so we should become and remain worthy conduits through whom the Spirit of the Lord can operate…” We are not the light source, only the channel or conduit by which the light is sent and received. If we do teach without recognising where the real teaching comes from and take praise to ourselves, then it is priestcraft. 2 Nephi 26:29 gives a great definition of that. It says “priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world…” – they substitute themselves for the true ‘light’. We need to be careful of this or we become tainted with the sin of priestcraft and lose the power of the Spirit.
2) – “We are most effective as instructors when we encourage and facilitate learning by faith.”
As the teachers, it is our responsibility to not only teach, but also help others teach themselves. The old saying goes if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime – rather than giving him a fish to feed him for a meal.
Elder Bednar points out that, in his experience, the best instructors he has had he’s had are those that don’t give him the answers – rather, helped him find answers for himself. For example, I have found the same to be true. My MTC teacher was incredible! This wasn’t because he was intelligent or gave answers to all of our questions, in fact it was quite the opposite. When a question was asked he would say ‘let’s look and see’ and then search with us. Elder Bednar then said “The most important learnings are caught – not taught.” When we guide students to seek learning by faith they act for themselves, feel the Spirit and get answers to questions they didn’t know they even had.
3) – “An instructor’s faith is strengthened as he or she helps others seek learning by faith.”
The Apostle Paul said “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” (Romans 2:21). When we teach we can ultimately be the ones who gain the most as we study for the lesson, teach it and get insights from the students as they seek learning by faith. It is actually a scientific fact! You learn more – as a percentage – if you teach something to someone else rather than studying or listening to it yourself.
Finally, Elder Bednar spoke about a recent example of seeking learning by faith. He talked of President Hinckley’s Book of Mormon reading challenge. President Gordon B. Hinckley declared that if all who listened would read the Book of Mormon before the end of 2005 then it would bring “…an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.” (Ensign Aug 2005). Many were given an assurance by a prophet of God. Many acted on this assurance, and received an evidence. I was one of these. My testimony of the Gospel has been miraculously strengthened by this experience.