By Catherine Keddington Arveseth
A personal testimony is like a candle flickering in our souls. It’s what gives the body light and radiance. We can see it burning in the faces of those who know what is true. At times it burns with bright intensity. At other times, it can feel like a wee flame, struggling in the darkness. But when we give it sufficient fuel, this collection of what we know to be true can burn with such force that is like a fire within us.
Jeremiah experienced this burning of testimony within. While trying to preach the gospel to a wicked people in Jerusalem, he was mocked, beaten and placed in stocks. Not a soul would listen to him. Utterly dejected, he cried out to the Lord that he was in derision daily and could no longer even mention God’s name. Then, he must have felt something stir inside him for he said, “But [God’s] word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones.and I could not stay.” (Jeremiah 20:7-9)
Paul, who suffered similar contempt and disapproval, felt that same burning within. To the Corinthians he wrote, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of.yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16)
And of the converted Lamanites in the Book of Mormon, the prophet Samuel taught, “The more part of them are in their path of duty.they do walk circumspectly before God.they observe to keep his commandments. and this because of their faith in Christ. And now, because of their steadfastness.because of their firmness, when they are once enlightened.the Lord shall bless them and prolong their days.” (Helaman 15:5-10)
For generations, the Lamanites lived in wickedness and darkness, but once they were enlightened by the truth, they kept that truth burning like a bright light inside them and the Lord promised to bless them and prolong their days. The Lord offers this same blessing and strength to us. He wants a conviction in our hearts like that of Jeremiah, Paul and Samuel.
To Whom Shall We Go?
Assuming, we have even a flicker of light within us, what happens when our testimonies are challenged – when we hear, as the Savior calls it, a “hard saying” or we plead with him for a certain righteous blessing and it is not granted? What happens then to the light within us?
Christ asked this same question of his apostles. After teaching many of his followers that he was indeed the bread of life, “Many.of his disciples when they had heard this, said, this is an hard saying; who can hear it?” And the gospel of John says, “From that time, many of his disciples” people like you and me who professed to believe, “went back, and walked no more with him.” (John 6:60, 66)
“Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?” (John 6:67) Christ asks the same of us. When we hear a “hard saying” or life deals us a difficult blow, or we are asked to believe or do something that requires all the faith we possess, will we also go away?
Peter’s answer is full of intelligence and truth. “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) Peter’s words echo what Jesus had just taught them when he said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63)
So our answer to Christ’s question of his disciples is, No! We will not go away! Only Christ has the words we need – for they are spirit – they are life! Our flame of a personal testimony will burn cold without that spirit and that life.
The Fuel of Faith
Our testimonies also burn on faith. When our faith is tried, our testimonies have the potential to burn more brightly. When we exercise faith, we choose to love God so completely that we become fiercely loyal to him. When we love him and are loyal to him, we want to be obedient to him. When we are obedient to him, he increases our faith. This faith, in turn, strengthens our personal testimonies. Each step of this process or cycle gives fuel to the next. Each quality – faith, love of God, loyalty to God, obedience to God – gives life and light to the candle in our souls.
Several months ago, while struggling to gain peace over some personal matters, I decided to read from the book of Job. I knew my plight did not compare even remotely to Job’s but I always find comfort in Job’s endurance and faith. He lost everything and was so spent, physically and emotionally, from enduring that he pined, “My soul is weary of my life.” (Job 10:1)
But while I was reading, I was struck by a particular question that Job asked. I felt he was asking it of me. “Who will say unto [God], what doest thou?” (Job 9:12) Job is saying, who can say to God – what are you doing with me? Yet, this is exactly what we cry out to the heavens when we don’t understand why we have to wait for certain promises or why we have been given a certain challenge in this mortal life or why we have lost something or someone precious to us. But who are we to doubt that God knows what He is doing with us?
If we love God and are loyal and obedient to Him, we can know that it doesn’t matter what He is doing with our lives – because He is God. And what He is doing with us is exactly what we need for in the end, it will bring us the greatest progression, understanding and joy.
A Forgotten Apostle
One of the valiant Christian martyrs of the sixteenth century was William Tyndale. He is known as the Father of the English Bible. Michael Wilcox describes him as “the forgotten apostle, the father of the Testaments, the creator of the prophetic and apostolic voice.” (S. Michael Wilcox, Fire in the Bones, 2004, p. xvi )
His story is unfamiliar, but through his work and sacrifice, you and I enjoy the Bible in English today. He lived at a time when men and women were publicly ridiculed, tortured and burned at the stake for even sympathizing with or giving aid to those who wanted to see the Bible translated from Latin into English. Despite this deterrence, Tyndale believed that common people like shoemakers and ploughboys should have access to the word of God. So, in hiding and secret, he used Greek and Hebrew texts to draw out the most accurate translation he could of the New Testament and the Pentateuch. Because of Tyndale we have treasured words and phrases like atonement, still small voice, let there be light and fire in the bones.
Eventually, Tyndale was burned at the stake for his life-giving work. While clergy in England were burning Tyndale’s copy of the New Testament he wrote, “Why I take the labour to make this work, insomuch as they.burn it?.I answer, In burning the New Testament.no more shall they do, if they burn me also, if it be God’s will.Nevertheless, in translating.I did my duty, and so I do now, and will do as much more as God hath ordained me to do.” (Fire in the Bones, p. 94)
Tyndale had the type of fire burning within him that it didn’t matter what happened to him, so long as he was loyal to God and doing God’s work. He knew that in the eyes of the Lord, the state of the heart mattered much more than where one stood socially, politically or economically. He also wrote, “God looketh first on thy heart.he looketh with what heart thou workest, and not what thou workest; how thou acceptest the degree that he hath put thee in, and not of what degree thou art, whether thou be an apostle or a shoemaker.” (Fire in the Bones, p. 102) Isn’t this one of the greatest lessons God wants us to learn in this life? That no matter what happens to us, if our hearts are turned to Him, we will be all right.
Let Your Light Shine
Christ has asked us to be a light to the world. In the Sermon on the Mount, He taught, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Christ wants us to be so pure and clear that we become a direct passageway for his light. He wants our bodies to be saturated with his light to the point where we are unaffected by praise or scorn, where we go around the world simply immune to the darkness and evil around us.
I have seen this clearness in many individuals I know. It is in the full-time missionaries. It is in all who spend their time thinking about what is happening inside them and inside others. While serving a mission in Peoria Illinois I became acquainted with Momma and Poppa Elam of Hannah, Illinois. Momma and Poppa had recently joined the Church. They had one older son, Brian, but no daughters. So they decided to adopt all the sister missionaries within the Peoria mission. They became our Momma and Poppa away from home. Next to the Mission President and my companion, they were the first individuals I met in Illinois. They greeted me with big hugs and a handmade bunny that Momma had sewn for all the sisters. (This bunny still sits on my bed.) They spent their days driving through the cornfields of Illinois to celebrate each sister missionary’s birthday and other special occasions. Momma was diagnosed with cancer soon after I met her. She and Poppa came to the airport to send me off when I went home, a red bandanna around her head in place of her hair. She passed away less than a year after I returned home. They were sealed in the temple sometime prior to her death.
From what I know, neither of these Saints went to college. They had very little money and their clothes were given to them by ward members, but their hearts were the Lord’s. They were clear and full of burgeoning light. The fire of the restored gospel burned intensely inside them. Because of that testimony, they knew that all would be right, no matter what happened to them.
Through faith, we can move past any disappointment, hurt, or unfulfilled expectation. We can find ourselves grateful for the fierce winds and hardness of life. Fierce winds make us more committed to the Lord. They make us examine our hearts. They stir the flames inside us. And it is up to us whether we will allow these winds to stoke the fire, so that it burns more intensely, or snuff it out.
Christ wants us to stay by His side and hear His words, for they are spirit, they are life. And they can be like a fire shut up in our bones – so much that we cannot be stayed – so much that we will move wherever and do whatever the Lord asks of us.
Isaiah wrote, “Ye that kindle fire, walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled.” (Isaiah 51:11)
Our Father in Heaven lives. He works inseparably with His son Jesus Christ, who is our Savior, Healer and Advocate. Together, they are working in our hearts to turn us away from the world and away from darkness. They want us to turn towards them, towards their light, to connect ourselves with their eternal perspective. When we do, we will become true vessels for their light.
2004 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved