Increasing Faith in Heavenly Father and in Jesus Christ and His Atonement

This post was originally shared as a talk at stake conference of the College Station Stake in 2017.

I was born with a congenital heart defect and consequently underwent open heart surgery right before I turned 5. Five years later, I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. And five years after that, I fractured my back in a sledding accident. So it may not be a surprise that exercise has never come naturally or easily to me.

It was after the birth of my third baby at age 28, however, that I decided I needed to develop physical strength to protect and help the only body I have. Considering my past health history, it would have been real easy for me to use my physical ailments and struggles as excuses to never be active. But deep down, I knew that exercise could quite possibly save my life.

One day I just started doing a little bit more than I had--which wasn't much. Even though it wasn't easy, I found myself wanting to do a little bit more and while it wasn't a perfect record, I was consistent. Yet after two months of regular physical activity, I was so upset that I could not see or feel any positive benefits from my efforts. It was completely frustrating and I had no motivation to continue. I even went to see my doctor--you know, just in case there was something wrong with me. While visiting with the doctor, he applauded my efforts and advised me not to give up. He said that even though I couldn't see the outward effects, he assured me that positive things were happening internally and that someday I would see the results I desired. It was not the response I was hoping for. But I followed his advice.

Over the years, I have reflected and found that the same is true when it comes to our spiritual activity and increasing our faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and his atonement. I was born into a part member family, where my dad was not very active and my mom later became a new convert. I have an older sister, and a younger sister and brother, all of whom were no longer active in church by the time I turned 21. I've thought a lot about why that is. Was I just lucky and beat some crazy odds? How did they get to where they are and how did I get to where I'm at? We were all taught the same gospel and raised under the same roof by the same mom. Regardless of the individual circumstances, I've determined that my siblings simply stopped increasing their faith in the Savior and his atonement while I kept trying to increase mine.

"Belief is the foundation of our faith, but we must do more than believe--we must act and faith is the motivating force that [propels] action." 1

The verb "increase" means to become or make greater in size, amount, density or degree. If you want to increase in knowledge, you keep studying. You want to increase the amount of money in your piggy bank, you have to keep adding to it. Increasing stops when you stop. Elder Bednar has taught, "As disciples of the Savior, we are not merely striving to know more; rather, we need to consistently do more of what we know is right and become better." 2

We weren't put on this earth to be stagnant. We were placed here so we could increase our faith in Jesus Christ and progress forward, back to our Heavenly Father. The Savior, Jesus Christ, who glorifies his Father in Heaven, is our answer for everything. So how do we increase our faith in Him and his atonement? Well, we start through our spiritual activity with regular, faith-building exercises such as: studying the testimonies and counsel of God's servants contained in the general conference addresses, reading and pondering the words of God in the scriptures, having earnest and heartfelt prayers with Heavenly Father and developing a relationship with Him, and elevating your Sabbath day experience and participating in the ordinance of the Sacrament each week in meaningful ways.
All of these foundational, spiritual work-outs will increase your faith and lead to lasting conversion because they, themselves, are acts of faith and will keep you on the covenant path of righteous living. Other faith-increasing habits and behaviors will naturally follow as you continue to heed the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

We all have struggles and hardships, some more hidden than others. But instead of trying to do it on my own, I would much rather face a trial with a friend--and not just any friend, but one who is all-powerful and all-knowing and the only source of true peace. No matter what challenges you have had or are currently battling, you can still increase your faith in the Savior and his atonement a little each day and you should because it's imperative for your spiritual health and survival!

Our family was recently reading in Alma 33 about the experience Moses had in the wilderness when the fiery flying serpents descended upon the children of Israel. Moses was commanded to raise a staff with a serpent on it and told the Israelites that whoever would look upon it would live. There were many who did so. But many did not look because they did not believe it would heal them and they perished.

The required task for the Israelites to save themselves was simple. The exercises that will increase our faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and his atonement are straight forward and uncomplicated as well. Do not cast them aside because of their simplicity.

We must, as President Sharp counseled recently, reduce and simplify our lives to align them with the Lord's will. Elder Hales once said, "When you cannot do what you have always done, then you only do what matters most." 3 We need to pray to Heavenly Father to find out how we can accomplish that.

When I began my quest to get my body in better shape than it was, my motivation was hung up on immediate results and my desire to keep exercising quickly fizzled out when things weren't going the way I wanted them to. I'm afraid that sometimes we fall into that same trap when it comes to increasing our developing faith. Don't abandon your righteous efforts because you can't see the results you hope for right away. Just as with any physical activity, my spiritual deposits will always be a benefit to me because doing something small is still more than nothing. A penny is an increase in your savings just as 500 pennies are also an increase.

Don't adopt an "all or nothing" attitude either. Instead of skipping his scripture study because he couldn't spend 30 minutes doing it, the Savior would read something. Instead of skipping his responsibilities as a home or visiting teacher because a visit in the home and a spiritual message weren't possible that month, the Savior would reach out and make contact some other way. In any situation, I know the Savior would do something to increase His faith and we should too because every effort matters and contributes to our conversion over time. Again, Elder Bednar reminds us that, ordinary people who consistently do small and simple things that are right before God will bring forth extraordinary results. 4 "The consistency of our intent and work [is] perhaps the greatest lesson." 5

My doctor could have been patronizing and unsympathetic to my plight about the lack of change in my outward appearance. But he wasn't. He could have easily pointed out that eight weeks of exercise is not going to magically change the way I look and offset 28 years of not exercising. But he didn't. He was kind and compassionate. He told me he was proud of me and urged me to keep at it because he knew it was good for me no matter what. It was clear my doctor cared about me and because of that, I trusted him and followed his counsel. Twelve years later, I have been able to finally see some of those positive changes.

Our Savior, the perfect physician of our spirits, is sending us the exact same message through His apostles and prophets. He loves us. He is proud of the righteous efforts we make and gently persuades us to persevere because it's what's best for us. "Don't you quit!" he says. 6 Now is the best time to start becoming the person you want to be. 7

If you have stopped your regular spiritual workouts that will increase your faith in the Savior, I invite you to start again. Please don't wait to make it a special occasion. Just begin. Whether you're 28, 58 or 98, it's not too late! If you've been working to increase your faith, but find it hard to continue because you haven't seen the results you were hoping for, I urge you to keep going! Every good choice you make, leads to other good choices. Every time you choose the Lord, you are increasing your faith in him and his atonement and the power He has to make us more than we ever could on our own. We know the Lord wins in the end, so let's all be on the winning team and become who we need to be. Our ever increasing faith is what will get us there.

1. "The Constant Exercise of our Faith," O. Leslie Stone, General Conference, April 1973.
2. "More Diligent and Concerned at Home," David A. Bednar, General Conference, October 2009.
3. "Chosen to Bear Testimony of My Name," David A. Bednar, General Conference, October 2015.
4.  BYU Women's Conference, David A. Bednar, April 29, 2011.
5. "More Diligent and Concerned at Home," David A. Bednar, General Conference, October 2009.
6. "An High Priest of Good Things to Come," Jeffrey R. Holland, General Conference, October 1999.
7. "The Best Time to Plant a Tree," Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Ensign, January 2014.

Jenn Hough is a recent transplant to Texas after living in Oregon for ten years and so far, she loves being in the south! Jenn grew up in Utah, Georgia, and even Alaska where she graduated from high school. She married her college sweetheart, Jared, in 1997, and earned her bachelor's degree from Weber State University in elementary education in 1999. She is the proud mom of five incredible children who keep her on her toes and on her knees! She is currently serving as the second counselor in the College Station Texas Stake Relief Society presidency.

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