I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a believer recently, to be a person of faith, and what it entails. At first, I got caught up in the semantics of the differences between ‘knowing’ and ‘believing.’ I looked up dozens of definitions for both the words, comparing them side by side and in context as an English major does. I wrote the beginnings to half a dozen blog posts. I scrawled in three different notebooks as I tried to organize my thoughts. I sat in silence, cross-legged on my bed with a slice of pie (made with the last blueberries of the season and not be taken for granted) staring at my computer, trying to string the words together in a way that would express the thoughts of my heart.
In current Christian culture, we tend to use the word ‘know’ as we testify of Christ. It’s a stronger word semantically, and when you take into account the social connotations of the word, it is authoritative and strong. It rings with assurance and gives you the feeling that it can withstand any scrutiny thrown at it.
I hear people in meetings and in homes say “I know” as they talk about the Gospel, and it brings this timbre to their voice, and you get the feeling that their knowing goes deep into their bones as they talk of truths that have been witnessed to them. There is no question, no doubt in their bright eyes. Some lean forward, as if by that simple movement they can impress upon you the depth of their knowing and share it with you. Others clasp their hands together or grip the pulpit to steady themselves as they try to contain their emotions. It’s all at once wonderful, admirable, beautiful, and inspiring.
But the word believe.
That is the word of testimony that strikes a chord in my heart. I love it.
It starts small, a whisper. A match struck in the darkness that sputters and flares, gaining strength in night.
Given the right fuel, it sparks and catches, growing into a roar as it chases the darkness away, sparks spiraling upward into the sky as it cracks and rumbles.
I’ve built my little camp around those “I believe” flames of faith. Sometimes the doubt creeps in when I’m not mindful, and I have to rush to add more fuel, to carefully tend the flames of belief. At times I must step out into the darkness with my questions to find that wood to build it up. Sometimes the process to stoke the sparks back into a blaze is longer than others. A few times, I’ve had to re-light it entirely, gathering the glowing embers and rebuilding the bonfire back up.
My faith isn’t perfect. I battle doubts on a regular basis. I’m still growing as a child of God and have a long way to go in terms of my journey of faith. What I don’t know at times tends to tower over what I do know. Sometimes I honestly have a hard time even saying “I know.” And that’s really hard for me to admit. I’ve felt like a lesser disciple on more than one occasion over the years for my inability at times to say “I know.”
But I’ve learned that “I believe” is just as powerful a testimony as “I know.”
As I’ve pondered belief these past several weeks, I’ve felt the words of the Savior fill my mind and heart concerning belief. I think of people who were not just converts, but devoted disciples of Jesus Christ – kingdom builders who took that little spark of belief and built it into a blazing and undeniable fire of sacrifice, devotion, love, and faith.
I think first of Thomas. There is a special place in my heart for him. He was surrounded by men with mighty names – Peter the Rock, James and John the Sons of Thunder, John the Beloved. But what have we come to call Thomas?
Not exactly a title that inspires the confidence of men, is it?
But of all the apostles, he is the one I identify with the most. (In kindom come, we’ll have to sit down to supper and have a nice long chat, Thomas and I)
He was a man who was so filled with the fire of the Gospel and of discipleship that when Christ was preparing to enter a hostile land, he rallied his brethren by saying “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16).
That we may die with him.
Yet we define him by the one doubt he had voiced after Christ’s resurrection. The words he uttered after receiving his witness of the resurrected Messiah?
“My Lord and my God.”
Those five words swell with testimony and faith.
However, I find it hard to swallow that Thomas never again doubted after that personal invitation from the Master to believe more fully because he wasn’t perfect.
But I do imagine he built that campfire of his own up so high that he burned brightly for all to see as he ministered to all who came within the circle of its light. What doubts he may have faced after Christ’s departure were pushed back by the flames of faith. He was a believer who ventured to ask question after question during Christ’s mortal ministry and used those answers he found to become a more consecrated disciple.
I think, too, of the man who came to Christ seeking a blessing of healing for his only child. I imagine the compassion with which Jesus must have replied, saying, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”
Believe. Not ‘know’ or ‘all things are possible to him without doubt.’
The words the father cried next are written on my heart. “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.” (Mark 9:14-24)
Not “lack of knowledge,” but unbelief.
Christ didn’t expect his belief to be perfect – He knew that tired father sought a more perfect faith. A progressing faith. A faith that still had room to grow in a heart willing to learn. And Christ still promised him that all things were possible for a man that believed. The prophet Alma taught that even the desire to believe holds great power. Believers, regardless of where they are at in their journey, are destined to witness miracles.
Belief is about asking Jesus Christ to be not only our Author, but the Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), to help us overcome our doubts and our inhibitions, our fears and our weaknesses. To help us amplify our little acts of faithfulness. To help us to be a little better, to burn a little brighter.
Belief is about taking a leap of faith, about looking into the darkness and gathering strength to face it. It’s not so much trusting the Lord when it’s light as it is trusting Him when the darkness looms, when fear laps at your feet like waves at high tide. Charles Spurgeon, a British preacher in the 1800s, said it better than I could: “To trust in God in the light is nothing, but to trust Him in the dark – that is faith.” It’s not about a lack of fear, it’s about becoming brave with His help.
But let’s be honest.
Being a believer is hard.
Especially in a world that is growing more secular by the day, and where openly professing to believe in a higher power (regardless of religion or denomination) is becoming less accepted. It is seen as a sign of weakness. But we’re given this incredible opportunity to follow the counsel of the Savior and let our lights “so shine before men that they may see” (Matthew 5:16) and to be an example to the believers (1 Timothy 4:12). When we rely on Him, we burn brighter and more steadily.
I think of the pillar of fire that led Moses and the Israelites through the wilderness after their exodus (Exodus 13:21-22) and the promise in Isaiah that “the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence. And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain” (Isaiah 4:5-6).
If God our Father and Jesus our Brother are to be our examples in everything, is this not what we aspire to be? A shining fire of belief, even in the dark of the night? A refuge in the storm?
We often forget that we build fires against darkness, but that the darkness is what makes the fires stand out and fulfill their purpose. So in the darkness of your own night, remember that your belief, whether a spark or a bonfire, is powerful.
It doesn’t mean that we know everything. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have doubts or questions or hesitation. What it does mean is that we are slowly but surely building up a fire of faith that lights up the darkness, that puts the doubts into perspective, that helps us to learn and grow and to draw closer to an infinitely loving Father. It’s in those flames of faith that we forge a lasting relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, a relationship that gets us through the trials, doubts, and weaknesses that come with mortality. It is in the light of that fire of belief that we come to see the Savior, truly see Him, for who He is to us, and how He has poured out His blessings and love upon us.
And what’s best is that He helps us to believe! That’s what Christ’s Atonement is all about! He shows us the tools and gives us the opportunities to build our faith into something incredible, something bigger and brighter than we could have ever imagined for ourselves. That analogous fire of belief becomes not only our own safe haven, but a beacon to others – an invitation to come and to learn and to grow and to ask questions of their own. He is simply asking us to trust Him. To trust in who He is. To trust in what He has done and what He has promised to do. To believe.
Because belief – at its very core – is about learning to trust in the Lord, learning to develop the kind of faith that allows us to stand with Thomas and say “Let us also go.”