In a famous chapter of The Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma teaches a group of people who have been cast out of their place of worship because of their poverty. To this marginalized group, Alma explains that the quality of their worship has much more to do with the quality of their faith than with the quality of the building in which they worship. He then proceeds, inviting them to reinvigorate their worship, to “exercise a particle of faith” (Alma 32:27), by receiving his prophetic message:
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. (Alma 32:28)
This pattern—of receiving a seed, allowing it space to grow, and then cultivating it if it does grow—has often been presented to me as a blueprint for learning gospel principles. Want to know whether The Book of Mormon is true? Rather than reject it outright, give it a chance, try out the doctrine it teaches, and see whether it blesses your life. Struggling with the law of tithing? Plant the seed by paying tithing, and then look forward to the fruit that that seed will produce. Not sure whether you should go to school in Ohio or in Utah? Pay attention to which of the options enlarges your soul, enlightens your understanding, and begins to be delicious to you—and that’s how you’ll recognize the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The teachings in Alma 32 are powerful and flexible, applicable to countless situations, principles, and questions. As I write, I don’t mean to diminish that powerful flexibility or to say that we’ve gone off the rails if we’ve used Alma’s seed-planting pattern to strengthen our faith either in general or in relation to a particular principle (because then I’d be as off the rails as anyone I know). However, I’ve recently realized that Alma had something different, something very specific, in mind when he taught the impoverished crowd about seeds and faith. He wasn’t talking about some abstract capacity for belief, nor was he talking about developing enough faith to pay tithing—he was talking about Jesus Christ and about the crucial importance of putting Him at the heart of our faith and worship.
In the thirty-third (and much less famous) chapter of Alma, the gathered crowd asks the prophet how they can begin to plant the word in their hearts, and Alma replies, “[B]egin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people” (Alma 33:22), going on to say in verse 23: “I desire that ye shall plant this word [that is, the Son of God] in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son.” Thus, Alma explains that he isn’t talking about planting just any word into our hearts—he’s talking about planting Christ, the very Word that “was with God” and that “was God” from the beginning (John 1:1).
Alma’s clarification, which I’ve somehow missed more times than I’d care to count, pulls faith down from the lofty realm of abstraction and lands it firmly on the rock of the living Christ. In that light, I’ve been learning that faith in general, and my faith in particular, is not just about my attitude towards the unknown, my willingness to believe religious things, or my commitment to attend church regularly—it really is (or should be) about the quality of my relationship with Jesus Christ and my confidence in Him. That kind of faith is not a matter of ideas, doctrines, rites, or politics; instead, it is focused on the Son of God, the Redeemer of all humanity, who entreats, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Further, that kind of faith does not just promise new knowledge or even refined wisdom; instead, it offers an Ally, an Advocate, an unfailing Friend. It offers a relationship with the Almighty.
So, with the beginning of a new year, I aim to recommit myself. Rather than commit myself more fully to some particular aspect of the gospel, though, I aim to commit more fully to the One whose gospel it is. I can only begin to guess at what lies ahead, but I trust that, by focusing on “the author and finisher of [my] faith” (Hebrews 12:2), I will find far more than soothing words and compelling philosophies: I expect to find a deeper awareness of God’s love and of heaven’s help as well as an increased capacity to face challenges and to embrace opportunities—for, as Paul wrote long ago, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).