Exercising Our Spiritual Muscles

Exercising Our Spiritual Muscles


I am grateful for the
blessing of having a physical body, which is an
amazing gift from our Heavenly Father. Our bodies have
over 600 muscles. Many muscles require
exercise in order to be in condition to
perform our daily activities. We could expend much mental
effort reading and learning about our muscles,
but if we think this will make them stronger,
we will be very disappointed. Our muscles grow only
when we use them. I have come to realize
that spiritual gifts behave in the same way. They also need to be
exercised to grow. The spiritual gift of
faith, for example, is not just a feeling or a mood;
it is a principle of action that frequently appears
in the scriptures linked to the verb exercise. Just as reading and
learning about muscles is not enough to build
muscle, reading and learning about faith without
adding action is insufficient to build faith. When I was 16 years old,
my oldest brother, Ivan, who was 22 at that
time, came home one day and shared some news
with the family. He had decided to get baptized
in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our parents looked at
him somewhat skeptically, and I remember not
completely understanding what was going on. A year or so later, he gave
us more surprising news: he had decided to serve as a
missionary of the Church, which meant that we were not going
to see him for two years. My parents were not
thrilled with this news; however, I saw in him
a clear determination that increased my
admiration for him and the decision he had made. Months later, while Ivan
was serving his mission, I had the opportunity to plan a
vacation with some schoolmates. We wanted to celebrate the
end of our high school years and spend a few
days at the beach. I wrote a letter to
my missionary brother mentioning my summer
vacation plans. He wrote back that the
town he was serving in was on the way to
my destination. I decided it would be a good
idea to stop by and visit him. It was not until
later that I learned that missionaries
are not supposed to be visited by family. I made all the arrangements. I remember sitting on the bus
thinking of all the fun Ivan and I would have together
on this beautiful sunny day. We would have breakfast,
chat, play in the sand, sunbathe–what a great
time we were going to have! As the bus arrived
at the terminal, I saw Ivan standing next
to another young man, both in white shirts and ties. I got off the bus,
we hugged each other, and he introduced his companion. Without wasting another
minute, I told my brother my plans for the
day, but little did I know what Ivan had scheduled. He looked at me,
smiled, and said, “Sure! However, we need to
do some errands first. Would you come with us?” I agreed, thinking that
we would have enough time to enjoy the beach afterward. That day, for more
than 10 hours, I walked through the
streets of that town with my brother
and his companion. I smiled at people all
day; I greeted people I had never seen in my life. We talked to everyone,
knocked on the doors, and visited people my
brother and his companion were teaching. During one such visit, my
brother and his companion were teaching about Jesus Christ
and the plan of salvation. Suddenly, Ivan paused
and looked at me. To my surprise, he politely
asked me to share my opinion about what was being taught. The room fell silent,
and all eyes were on me. With some difficulty, I
finally found the words and shared my feelings
about the Savior. I did not know if what I
shared was right or wrong. My brother never corrected
me; to the contrary, he thanked me for sharing
my thoughts and feelings. During those hours together,
my brother and his companion did not spend a single minute
teaching a lesson exclusively to me, yet I gained
more knowledge than in all my previous
conversations with him. I witnessed how countenances
were changed as people received spiritual light in their lives. I saw how some of them
found hope in the messages, and I learned how to serve
others and forget about myself and my own desires. I was doing what
the Savior taught: “If any man will come after
me, let him deny himself.” Looking back, I realize
that my faith grew that day because my brother
gave me the opportunity to put it in action. I exercised it as we
read from the scriptures, looked for people to teach,
bore testimony, served others, and so on. We never got around to
sunbathing that day, but my heart was bathed
in light from heaven. I did not see even one small
grain of sand at the beach, but I felt my faith grow like
a small grain of mustard seed. I did not spend the
sunny day as a tourist, but I gained
wonderful experiences, and without realizing it, I
was a missionary–without even being a member of the Church! Thanks to the Restoration
of the gospel, we can come to understand
how our Heavenly Father helps us develop spiritual gifts. It is more likely
that He will give us opportunities to develop those
gifts rather than just granting them to us without spiritual
and physical effort. If we are in tune
with His Spirit, we will learn to identify
those opportunities and then act upon them. If we seek more
patience, we may find ourselves needing to practice
it while waiting for a response. If we want to have more
love for our neighbor, we can foster it by sitting
next to a new face at church. With faith it is similar:
when doubts come to our minds, trusting in the
Lord’s promises will be required to move forward. In this way we are
exercising spiritual muscles and developing them into sources
of strength in our lives. It will probably not be
easy at the beginning, and it might even
become a big challenge. The words of the Lord,
through the prophet Moroni, apply to us today: “And
if men come unto me I will show unto them
their weakness. I give unto men weakness
that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for
all men that humble themselves before me; for if they
humble themselves before me, and have [or
exercise] faith in me, then will I make weak things
become strong unto them.” I am grateful for
my brother Ivan, who not only shared
the gospel with me but also indirectly invited
me to live it and recognize my weaknesses. He helped me to accept the
invitation of the Master: “Come, follow me”–to
walk as the Savior walked, seek as the Savior sought, and
love as the Savior loves us. Months later, after my
missionary experience, I decided to get baptized
and to serve my own mission. Let’s accept the invitation
of President Russell M. Nelson and intently come
unto the Savior by identifying
those muscles that need more spiritual activity
and starting to exercise them. This is a long-distance, a
marathon race rather than a sprint, so do not forget
those small but constant spiritual activities
that will strengthen those important
spiritual muscles. If we want to
increase our faith, then let’s do things
that require faith. I bear my witness that we are
children of a loving Heavenly Father. His Son, Jesus Christ, loves us. He came to this world
to show us the way and then gave His life
voluntarily to give us hope. The Savior invites us to
follow His perfect example, to exercise our faith in
Him and His Atonement, and to expand all
the spiritual gifts that we have been blessed with. He is the way. This is my testimony, in the
name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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