Help for Life Challenges

3 ways we may misunderstand ‘Moroni’s promise’ (and how the truth helps build testimony)

A boy holding open a copy of the Book of Mormon to Moroni chapter 10.
A boy holding open a copy of the Book of Mormon to Moroni 10:3–5.

My missionary companion and I had been teaching Sadie* for a couple of months.

She was sincere, but as we invited her to pray to know the truth of the Book of Mormon by the power of the Holy Ghost, as outlined in Moroni 10:3–5, she didn’t seem to get an answer.

We tried to encourage her by talking about how the Holy Ghost speaks to us through our thoughts and feelings. But the more Sadie studied and prayed about the Book of Mormon, the more frustrated she felt when she didn’t recognize any clear impressions in response.

Eventually, feeling discouraged and confused, she chose to stop meeting with us.

Looking back on this experience, I wish I could encourage Sadie differently. I believe sincere seekers can receive an answer about the truth of the Book of Mormon, as the prophet Moroni promises. But I also have learned that we as Church members sometimes misunderstand how to apply and teach these verses in the following three ways.

1. Assuming Spiritual Learning is a ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ Process

Many of us tend to simplify “Moroni’s promise.” We expect that as we pray with faith, sincerity, and real intent, God will bless us with a specific result—a powerful spiritual prompting or event—within a specific time frame.

Author and medical oncologist Dr. Tyler Johnson suggests that we sometimes apply a reductive “gumball-machine theology” to Moroni’s promise. He writes:

“Children love gumball machines because they are simple, reliable, quick, and offer a treat. If you put in your quarter and turn the crank, a gumball drops out. We often speak of Moroni 10:3–5 in the same way: reading, pondering, and praying are the quarter and the crank-turn, and an emotional experience with the divine is the gumball. Simple as that.

“But, of course, discerning spiritual truth seldom occurs so simply, and, even if it did, such experiences rarely constitute the last word on the subject.”

By presenting Moroni’s promise as a linear formula with universal results, my missionary companion and I led Sadie to expect a specific outcome—and in a relatively quick time frame.

This approach can lead to unnecessary pressure and discouragement.

“[When] a sincere seeker of truth encounters these verses, expects an immediate answer, and then doesn’t find one forthcoming, she can easily assume that either the whole thing is a sham or that she is spiritually broken and should stop trying—even though neither is the case,” Dr. Johnson writes. “The problem in that scenario is the misinterpretation of the verse, not the sincerity or spirituality of the seeker.”

For some, receiving an answer about the truth of the Book of Mormon might require more patience, diligence, study, and faith than others. We shouldn’t demand or expect answers to prayer within a specific timeline or try to dictate what the spiritual answer will look like.

2. Limiting What Revelation Can Be

Dr. Johnson suggests another common misunderstanding is assuming everyone will feel the Spirit through emotions. He writes:

“An experience with the ‘power of the Holy Ghost’ can come as an emotional encounter, but it may just as easily be a sudden flash of insight, a deepening of personal empathy, or a greater desire to be like Jesus. The Spirit can spark creative energy, illuminate a thorny intellectual problem, or bridge a connection that had hitherto remained obscure.

“We should not artificially limit the ways in which God speaks to us.”

In fact, if we read beyond Moroni 10:3–5, the prophet Moroni goes on to describe various gifts of the Spirit, noting that “there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all.”

God has given us different spiritual gifts for a reason, and just because we don’t experience a burning in the bosom” doesn’t mean our spiritual gifts are weaker or “wrong.”

3. Undervaluing Gradual, Subtle Assurances

We can also overlook more gradual and subtle spiritual assurances when we hope for a singular, dramatic answer to prayer. Instead of a metaphorical light switch that instantly floods our minds with spiritual revelation, Elder David A. Bednar has suggested that most people experience a “gradual increase of light” like a sunrise.

In the most recent general conference, Elder Alexander Dushku used a similar analogy, suggesting that heavenly “rays” can build upon each other to create “pillars” of light:

“The reality and power of one ray of testimony reinforces and combines with another, and then another, and another. Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a ray and there a ray—one small, treasured spiritual moment at a time—there grows up within us a core of light-filled, spiritual experiences. Perhaps no one ray is strong enough or bright enough to constitute a full testimony, but together they can become a light that the darkness of doubt cannot overcome.

“[In] time and through ‘great diligence’ [Alma 32:41], we too can have our own pillar of light—one ray at a time.”

If I could go back, I would encourage Sadie to look for her personal spiritual rays while testing Moroni’s promise. I would invite her to learn more about the unique ways the Spirit speaks to her, reminding her that we can act in faith and receive divine assurances while waiting for our pillars of light to grow.

Building a testimony is more than a one-time answer to prayer—it’s a lifelong journey. As Dr. Johnson recommends:

“We might do well to … allow spiritual knowledge to come as we’ve been told it usually will: ‘line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little’ (2 Nephi 28:30; see also Isaiah 28:10), or, to cite scripture’s most beautiful metaphor on the subject, as subtly, silently, and slowly ‘as the dews from heaven’ (D&C 121:45). … [These additional verses] expand what we learn in Moroni 10:3–5—while those Moroni verses matter, they are nowhere near the scriptures’ last word on the subject.”

▶You may also like: ‘When Church Is Hard’ author on helping young adults navigate complex faith questions

*Name has been changed.

When Church Is Hard

In When Church Is Hard, written by Tyler Johnson, you’ll find empathy and understanding about challenges you may face as you navigate life in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the context of current-day issues. You’ll also discover how the decision to stay can be not only reasonable but a powerful commitment to furthering the common good—including the good of marginalized members.

If you are struggling with questions and seeking to square your intuitive sense of the good found in the Church with questions about its history, doctrine, culture, or practices, this book is for you. Available at Deseret Book and

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