Many years ago, a young man (he was only 23 years old) was called to be the new stake president in Tooele, Utah. In those days, stake conferences had two sessions, and at lunch between the sessions, Joseph F. Smith, one of the General Authorities attending, said to the new stake president, “You said you believe the gospel with all your heart, and propose to live it, but you did not bear your testimony that you know it is true. Don’t you know absolutely that this gospel is true?”
“I do not,” answered the young man.
“President Taylor,” said Elder Smith to the President of the Church, John Taylor, who was also in attendance, “I am in favor of undoing this afternoon what we did this morning. I do not think any man should preside over a stake who has not a perfect and abiding knowledge of the divinity of this work.”
President Taylor just laughed and said, “Joseph, Joseph, Joseph, he knows it just as well as you do. The only thing that he does not know is that he does know it.”
That story brings up a very interesting question: Is it possible to know that the Church is true, but not know that you know? Is a testimony that hard to detect? This story is even more interesting when you learn the identity of the new stake president. His name was Heber J. Grant. Yes, the same Heber J. Grant who later became the President of the Church.
Interestingly, the next time Heber J. Grant faced members of his stake, he spoke powerfully for forty-five minutes. This time, he knew.
My friend Brad Wilcox suggests that we shouldn’t speak of testimonies using “light switch” terminology such as it’s “on” or it’s “off”; “ I have a testimony” or “I don’t have a testimony”; “I had it, but I lost it.” A testimony is not an all-or-nothing proposition. There are different levels of testimony, and our testimonies can grow or dwindle based on our experiences, our circumstances, and our choices.
Brother Wilcox is right. A testimony is not like a light switch with only two settings, on or off. So what is a testimony like? I’m going to suggest that a testimony is more like a light with a dimmer switch that makes possible an almost infinite number of settings between total light and total darkness. Just as there are levels of light, there are levels of testimony as well. Our testimonies start with the darkness of unbelief and grow brighter and brighter until it reaches the level of knowing something to be true.
With the dimmer switch, we can see how someone could have some light, some belief, yet still say, “I desire more light,” or “help thou mine unbelief.” You may encounter people who simply do not believe, but if they are willing to suspend disbelief just for a moment, something happens. As you teach and testify, and as the Spirit begins to “enlighten” their minds, they may move from doubt to wondering, and from wondering to a “desire to believe” (Alma 32:27). Over time, their desire may grow into a belief, and then even a knowledge that what they have learned about the gospel is good and true. As you let your light shine in their lives, it may turn their darkness into day.
The Lord spoke of a “growing light” in this interesting verse of scripture that perfectly fits our dimmer switch analogy:
That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. (D&C 50:24)
That is our goal: to take the light we have, to “continue in God” and gain more, to grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day, or until we can say, “I really do know.”
Read more about how you can increase the strength of your testimony and "know if you know" in John Bytheway's new book, How Do I Know If I Know?
It's spiritual gut-check time! The mission age has been lowered, and now more than ever, young people are asking themselves important questions:
How do I know if I really have a testimony?
Am I ready to serve a mission?
What does the Spirit feel like?
John Bytheway suggests that we "F.E.E.L." the truthfulness of the gospel through our feelings, our experiences, the many evidences we encounter, and our logical conclusions about how a loving God interacts with His children on the earth. Like gradually turning up a dimmer switch, understanding all the ways we F.E.E.L. our testimony will help it grow brighter.
As you read, you may discover that your testimony is stronger than you thought, and you'll also become more excited and motivated to let your light shine!