My friend Leslie McKinlay gave this talk in sacrament meeting today. _____________________________
I’m going to talk about signs. Not the type of sign that I hung on my childhood bedroom door telling my brother to go away. Or the type of sign you see on the tube telling you to move down the carriage, although they are cute and usually rhyme. In the booklet True to the Faith it says that signs are events or experiences that demonstrate the power of God. We all have probably have had at least one of these experiences in our lives. I want you to remember the times you felt or saw or heard the power of God.
Signs have been given throughout history for a variety of purposes. They are often miraculous. They can be reminders of covenants the Lord has made with us. They identify and announce great events such as the Savior’s birth, death and second coming. 3 Nephi chapter 1 tells of the Savior’s birth:
19 And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day. And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given.
21 And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word.
Although, Biblical signs weren’t always happy and they also indicated the Lord’s disapproval at times. Before Christ’s crucifixion this is what happened as recorded in 3 Nephi chapter 8:
23 And it came to pass that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen; and there was great mourning and howling and weeping among all the people continually; yea, great were the groanings of the people, because of the darkness and the great destruction which had come upon them.
I also found evidence of false signs in the scriptures. Mark 13:22 says
For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.
At this point you’re probably confused as to whether signs are a good or a bad thing. As with any gift, when it comes from God signs are good but we don’t get to demand how or when we receive them.
Joseph Smith received revelation during the early years of the church about seeking for signs. Section 63 of the Doctrine and Covenants are a piece of the revelation Joseph received:
7 And he that seeketh signs shall see signs, but not unto salvation.
8 Verily, I say unto you, there are those among you who seek signs, and there have been such even from the beginning;
9 But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe.
10 Yea, signs come by faith, not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God.
Another example is Korihor from the Book of Mormon. Korihor was a wicked man who was teaching against Christ and the prophets. He told people that there is no God and no punishment for the sins we commit. The following verses are a conversation between Korihor and the prophet Alma.
43 And now Korihor said unto Alma: If thou wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced of the truth of thy words.
44 But Alma said unto him: Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.
45 And yet do ye go about, leading away the hearts of this people, testifying unto them there is no God? And yet will ye deny against all these witnesses? And he said: Yea, I will deny, except ye shall show me a sign.
And this argument continued on until finally Alma says: I can give you a sign, Thou shalt be struck dumb in the name of God, meaning Korihor wouldn’t be able to speak. And it happens. Then this is one of my favorite parts because I can really picture it in my mind. One of Korihor’s chief judges writes down are you convinced now? Verses 51-52 read:
And now when the chief judge saw this, he put forth his hand and wrote unto Korihor, saying: Art thou convinced of the power of God?
52 And Korihor put forth his hand and wrote, saying: I know that I am dumb, for I cannot speak; and I know that nothing save it were the power of God could bring this upon me; yea, and I always knew that there was a God.
Some people claim that they would believe in God or His work if they were able to receive a sign. But the Lord has said, “Faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe”. Such signs are given to those who are faithful and obedient in order to strengthen them.
It’s a good thing to want to have spiritual experiences and have a desire to see the power of God. But we should not let our faith be dependent on them. It’s no coincidence that the other suggested research topics attached to signs are faith and obedience. As I studied faith I found a beautiful talk written by Neal A Maxwell called “Willing to Submit” …
Moreover, the descriptive simplicity of this quality (Faith) is matched by its developmental difficulty. It is so easy to be half-hearted, but this only produces half the growth, half the blessings, and just half a life, really. If faithful, we end up acknowledging that we are in the Lord’s hands and should surrender to the Lord on His terms—not ours. It is total surrender, no negotiating; it is yielding with no preconditions.
It is only by yielding to God that we can begin to realize His will for us. And if we truly trust God, why not yield to His loving omniscience? After all, He knows us and our possibilities much better than do we.
Yielding one’s heart to God signals the last stage in our spiritual development. Only then are we beginning to be fully useful to God! How can we sincerely pray to be an instrument in His hands if the instrument seeks to do the instructing?
The power of Heavenly Father is revealed to those who are faithful and obedient. But what do we need to be obedient too? The commandments. God gives commandments for our benefit. They are loving instructions for our happiness and for our physical and spiritual well-being. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that obedience to the commandments leads to blessings from God.
If we are lacking in faith or obedience it might seem natural to want a sign from Heaven to know that these things are true. But instead of wanting to be shown I think we need a desire to learn. I love Alma’s response to Korihor when he says we have the testimony of the Prophets, the scriptures and even the very earth that shows us the power of God. Our Heavenly Father chooses His Prophets, He inspired the scriptures and created the earth! Can I suggest that when you want to see and feel the power of God that you listen to General Conference, read your scriptures and spend time in nature. These unique spiritual experiences you are seeking won’t happen all at once but if you keep trying they will happen.
This brings me to my favourite reason why I think Spiritual signs are given and that is that they have the ability to teach us that we are not forgotten.
Elder Holland once said,
“The first great commandment of all eternity is to love God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength. … But the first great truth of all eternity is that God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength. That love is the foundation stone of eternity, and it should be the foundation stone of our daily life. Indeed it is only with that reassurance burning in our soul that we can have the confidence to keep trying to improve, keep seeking forgiveness for our sins, and keep extending that grace to our neighbors.”
I know that our Heavenly Father is watching over and loves each of us. I have a story about my Great Great Grandfather George McKinlay who lived in Cowdenbeath Scotland many years ago. This comes from his written life history.
In the early part of February 1865, being then less than eight years of age, I went to work in the coalmines. In February of March 1870 I was almost killed, and was carried home to my parents as being dead. The people had wired for three doctors to come before they got me home. When the doctors came, they all said there was no use of doing anything for me because it was impossible for me to live, but father would not stand for this and told them if they did not do all they could, he would have them prosecuted by the law. So they did all they could. The reason they did not want to do anything was because my head was split so as one could see under the skull, but thanks to the Lord, I am still here. My condition was such that I had to be moved by the sheets that I was laying on and the room in which I was laying had to be kept very dark. My head had to be pressed three times each day until the blood came out. For the first five days I knew nothing nor did I know anyone. At this time my father had twelve Elders of the church come to his home, fasting for the purpose of administering to me. They did, and when they had done, I spoke for the first time, saying to my father that I would live and that if he wished me to I could walk. I felt the power of the Lord enter into my body as vivid as I ever felt anything. It was forceful to me and the Lord knows I speak the truth. Father had to leave the room and give vent to his feeling of joy by shedding tears and to thank the Lord for his blessings. I do know it is by the power of the Lord that I live. I am ever thankful to Him for his blessings unto me and mine. My mission was not done nor was it filled at that time nor as yet. My head would pain me so that it would make me sick. But thank the Lord, I got so that I could work again. Father and mother had saved some money and asked me if I wanted to go to America. Think of it; a boy just seventeen years old to American all alone, knowing no one, but I said yes! George made the long journey to Salt Lake City with 15 cents in his pocket. He worked in stone quarrys and on the railroad. He eventually got married, moved to Idaho to farm and had 10 children, one of which is my Great Grandfather. I love his example of gratitude to the Lord. And that he knew he had a mission and purpose here on the earth to accomplish. The Gospel is here to help us with our purpose and mission in life.
Elder Uchtdorf gave a talk called Forget me not back in 2011. He discusses how we can sometimes become overwhelmed and forget the reason we have the Gospel.
Sometimes, in the routine of our lives, we unintentionally overlook a vital aspect of the gospel of Jesus Christ, much as one might overlook a beautiful, delicate flower. In our diligent efforts to fulfill all of the duties and obligations we take on as members of the Church, we sometimes see the gospel as a long list of tasks that we must add to our already impossibly long to-do list, as a block of time that we must somehow fit into our busy schedules. We focus on what the Lord wants us to do and how we might do it, but we sometimes forget why.
My dear brothers and sisters, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not an obligation; it is a pathway, marked by our loving Father in Heaven, leading to happiness and peace in this life and glory and inexpressible fulfillment in the life to come. The gospel is a light that penetrates mortality and illuminates the way before us.
While understanding the “what” and the “how” of the gospel is necessary, the eternal fire and majesty of the gospel springs from the “why.” When we understand why our Heavenly Father has given us this pattern for living, when we remember why we committed to making it a foundational part of our lives, the gospel ceases to become a burden and, instead, becomes a joy and a delight. It becomes precious and sweet.
It’s my testimony that miraculous signs that prove the power of God are all around us. We can read about them in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon. Their purposes are to warn, remind and reprimand. The nature of our heart will determine whether it is a spiritual experience or not. I’m so thankful for a truly merciful Savior. I know that this is His church. And I’m so happy to be a part of it.