Faith is the key to every good thing that comes from God. The Lectures on Faith describe it as the “foundation of all righteousness”, and the “first principle in revealed religion”. (Lecture 1:1)
We all know how important it is. How do we develop it? What are the actual step by step instructions to getting more of it?
Perhaps the greatest recorded sermon on developing faith is in Alma, chapter 32. Let’s take a look at it.
#1. Be Humble
“…therefore they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart.”
Alma had tried teaching the wealthy and the men and women of class and stature — they didn’t listen, and they didn’t care. The poorest folk, the ones not even permitted to enter into the churches to worship, listened to and savored the Word of God.
Any missionary will be able to testify to the truth of this — it’s always the poorest, those who have suffered much but not given up hope, given in to despair and anger towards God as a result of despair, that listen and that develop faith.
Why is this? Is it because poor people are more gullible? Does religion just prey upon their hopes and dreams for a better life? Heaven just being a pipe dream for people whose lives are crummy?
Marx called religion the “opiate of the masses” — not because religion was a bad thing, in his estimation, and as is so often misunderstood, but because religion is a medicine that eases the pain of existence. Sometimes life sucks. We’re born into misery, poverty, a lineage of poverty and hopelessness, and we have no way of getting out of it. Religion provides salvation, because it gives us something to live for, something to hope for.
Plus it’s true, which is a great bonus.
Back to the topic at hand — why is it that the poorest of the poor listened to Alma? Because they were humble. They were forced to be humble because of their situations and circumstances. Because they were humble, they were willing to learn and willing to change.
When we’re accomplished, rich, successful — who is this stranger from out of our city, wearing rags and speaking in a strange dialect, to tell us how to live our lives? Yet the poor listened, because they were humble.
The first step to developing faith is to cultivate humility. To be willing to learn, to admit we don’t have the answers, and to turn to God, who does.
#2. Be Penitent
“…but he stretched forth his hand, and cried unto those whom he beheld, who were truly penitent…”
Let’s set the scene. We’re in the land of the Zoramites, who’ve lost their way and think that you can earn your way to heaven by repeating prayers on top of a massive ziggurat. Times are tough for our missionaries, who have been trying to get through to the people. It’s not working.
They’re on the hill Onidah, a setting in which a single person could speak to a “great multitude”, almost auditorium-like. That multitude are the poor class of the city, and they’re humble. They have suffered. They want to know how they can deepen their relationship with God.
Alma is delighted that he finally has a group of people who will listen. Why will they listen? There’s the humility we talked about before, but there’s something else — the scriptures call them the “truly penitent”. What does that mean?
Penitence is sorrow or regret for things you may have done wrong. It is repentance, but not just the mere action of repentance, but the state of mind that accompanies true repentance — the mindset that we have sinned and must change and grow.
Humility is the motivating factor, and repentance is the action that we take as a result of that motivation.
Change whatever parts of your life make you feel guilt. Guilt is like a spiritual alarm system. It lets us know when we ‘re doing something that harms our spiritual selves. Listen to guilt. Don’t wallow in it, but use it as an indicator of where you need to take action, to change.
In order to develop greater faith, repent, and you will have confidence when approaching God.
#3. Cultivate Obedience
“And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?”
Let’s examine this scripture closely. What is Alma saying? First of all, this statement comes as part of an answer to a hypothetical question that Alma posed back in verse 18.
He’s countering the argument that we need signs to believe. His incredible riposte: we don’t need signs, because if we knew for a fact that God existed, and we didn’t do as He said, then how cursed would we be? It’s better for the ignorant to sin than for those who know.
That’s a strong argument, and it also serves to underline another step in cultivating faith: we must be obedient. If we are obedient, then God can trust that we will follow Him. He won’t give us knowledge and great faith only to lose us to the devil and his machinations. He wants to know that if we develop faith, we’ll be obedient enough to stick around, to avoid all the sins and wickedness that would rob that faith from us.
Be obedient. God will bless us with faith as we show Him that we will follow Him.
#4. Choose to Believe the Prophets
“Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.”
Faith is not a perfect knowledge. We can’t know for a fact that what Alma is saying is true. We may even begin in a state of doubt, holding what we may feel is a healthy skepticism towards his words, or even towards God in general.
Doubt and faith are just two different points on a timeline, as is knowledge. The important thing if we feel doubt or harbor skepticism is to recognize it, acknowledge it, then choose to overcome it, and decide to believe instead.
We often don’t realize that it’s a choice to believe or to doubt, instead just going with our default state and thinking that’s the end of it all. It’s not. Faith is a choice, as is doubt.
How do we decide to believe? I can’t just say, “I believe this” and then it happens immediately, right? Alma provides the solution:
“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.”
If you can’t believe, then merely wanting to believe is a great start. Start with the small things that you can believe, and foster your desire for faith.
After all, all those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled.
#5. Practice Mindfulness
“…It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”
Think about all the good things that have happened to you, all the times God has shown His hand in your life, all the blessings you have, all the miracles you’ve experienced, no matter how big or small.
These are good things, aren’t they?
Think about the way you feel when you pray, the way you feel when you read the scriptures, when you serve others and when you do good things.
Those are good feelings, right?
So if the word of God makes you feel good, and makes you do good, and brings good things into your life, then it must be good itself.
More specifically, your understanding will be enlightened, your soul will be enlarged — if you’ve studied the scriptures prayerfully, you’ll know the feeling I’m referring to.
Practice mindfulness and thankfulness. Reflect, ponder, and rely on your lived experiences to let you know that your faith is in a worthy cause.
#6. Nourish your Faith
“And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.”
Alma’s seed metaphor for faith is very apt. We should treat our testimonies like they are living things, needing to be taken care of, nourished, fed, developed. Testimonies can weaken through neglect. By giving up good habits, we can eventually fall away completely.
Elder David A. Bednar shared a quote from President Benson on the importance of nourishing our testimonies:
“The Book of Mormon warned us of how Satan, in the last days, would lead us away carefully down to hell. The Lord has on the earth some potential spiritual giants whom He saved for some six thousand years to help bear off the Kingdom triumphantly, and the devil is trying to put them to sleep.
The adversary knows that he probably won’t be too successful in getting them to commit many great and malignant sins of commission. So he puts them into a deep sleep, like Gulliver, while he strands them with little sins of omission.”
When we have developed some faith, our job is to avoid falling into a spiritual sleep, and to nourish it and develop it and keep it alive. We do that by doing the usual things: reading the scriptures, prayer, and church attendance. Even the prophets and apostles need to nourish their testimonies daily through study and prayer, so it’s only natural that we do too.
#7. Have Patience
“But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing upunto everlasting life.”
Faith can take time to develop. Don’t give up! Keep doing what you know is right, and keep learning and pushing yourself.
Alma outlines three specific things in this verse that we need to remember while we develop our testimony:
Faith is an ongoing process, that we must continue to develop and never give up. Diligence is valuable in learning and in reinforcing our testimony with knowledge and study. Patience is integral, because not everything comes to us on our schedule — when the Lord asks us to wait, we must wait. Sometimes the wait qualifies us for the blessing.
As we follow Alma’s example and sermon, we can develop faith and nourish it so that it will be as he promised:
“…ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.”
This fruit is eternal life, and when you seek it in earnest, God will give it to you.