Q: I am 14 years old. I want to know for myself that the church is true. I have some questions that I would like to ask people. 1) Why do some people believe that the church is a cult? 2) Why is it that every time I pray about the church nothing happens? I don't feel the burning like people say. I think that the church is true because we have a prophet and apostles and so did Jesus' church. But why don't I feel that burning? I feel like I'm a failure to the Lord.
A: Thank you for your sincere question. I’m sure that the Lord is very pleased with your desire to know the truth. It sounds like you already have the seeds of testimony growing in your heart. Here are some thoughts that may help your testimony grow even stronger.
It Takes Effort
What we get out of our search for a testimony is normally about as much as we put into it. In other words, it takes a lot of work. For most, it involves more than simply casually asking the Lord in a prayer if the church is true. It takes serious study, earnest prayer, fasting, and a sincere commitment to act on the answer (real intent). Sometimes it takes time to receive your answer. I think of some of these stories from the scriptures:
Enos: "my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens." (Enos 1:4)
Alma: "Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety? Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit." (Alma 5:45-46)
The Lord to Oliver Cowdery: "Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save [except] it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right..." (D&C 9:7-8)
In each of these cases, the answers did not come right away, they had to work and continue in faith and study and fast and pray. So, if you are struggling to get your testimony, or it seems that your answer is not coming as fast or in the way that you expect, you should take heart that even apostles and prophets have to work hard and be patient before they get their answers.
What about this "burning" feeling?
This leads us to your question about this "burning" feeling. The verse I last quoted above continues, "...and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right." (D&C 9:8) In other words, you will feel a strong impression, a calm, warm feeling that it is good. These are strong spiritual impressions that are difficult to describe in words. I suppose that for some people this "burning" can be a physical sensation, but more often it is a spiritual burning, a feeling of calm and comfort from the Holy Ghost. The prophet Alma refers to it as "swelling motions" in your breast. (Alma 32:28, see verses 18-43.) In another place, the scriptures refer to it as a "still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things, and often times it maketh my bones to quake while it maketh manifest." (D&C 85:6) We are also told that the power of God will "distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven." (D&C 121:45) "Burning in your bosom," "still small voice," "swelling motions in your breast," "whisper," "makes your bones quake," "distil upon your soul." All of these phrases are different ways to try to describe the same thing: the manifestation of the Holy Ghost.
Each of us is different in the way that we perceive the manifestations of the Spirit. The important thing is not how you receive your answer, but that you learn to recognize the answer when you do receive it. You may be expecting one thing, and the Spirit might be trying to speak to you in an entirely different way. Remember the experience of Elijah, "and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice." (I Kings 19:11-12) Messages from the Holy Ghost are like the still small voice; they are quiet and peaceful. Often, the message comes when we least expect it and can be missed if we are distracted by the noise of the world. But, if you listen and pay attention, you will recognize it when it happens to you.
I also encourage you to read the article Testimony: As Dew From Heaven for a great description of the way the Lord often gives us our testimonies, a little at a time.
What about people who say the church is a cult?
With regard to your question about people referring to us as a cult, it’s true that there are groups that label us that way. Some people consider any belief system that is in any way different from what they believe to be a cult. I’ve even heard people refer to us as a "dangerous satanic cult." This type of name calling is an easy way to make people think the church is bad without having to provide a shred of proof or a rational argument. The original Christian church that Jesus formed was, in its day, also considered a dangerous cult, and Jesus himself was often accused of being satanic. (See Matthew 12:22-28 for an example of the Pharisees accusing Jesus of being in league with the devil, and His masterful response.) It is amazing to me that people who refer to themselves as "Christian" would participate in this kind of slander. Yet, from its beginning, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been the target of the most malicious, hateful attacks imaginable--often at the hands of so-called Christians. To me, this persistent persecution is a sign that the Church is true--that it is Christ's Church re-established in our day. I encourage you to follow the example of Jesus, who responded with calm logic, love and testimony. Don't ever let yourself be dragged down to their level, or feel that you have to respond to every attack. The apostle Peter, who endured more than his share of slander, personal attacks, and persecution, counseled us to "be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing." (I Peter 3:8-9)
What are some specific steps I can take to get a testimony?
The best way to receive a testimony of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is to use The Book of Mormon. I encourage you to start at the beginning and read one chapter every day for the next 239 days (about 8 months). Kneel and pray before and after you read each day. Tell the Lord that you want to know if the book is true, and commit to acting on the testimony once you receive it. Remember the promise contained in Moroni 10:3-5. Here are the steps that it mentions that we must take to receive the promised answer.
I testify that the Book of Mormon is true, for I have felt the witness of the Holy Ghost to my heart and mind that it is the word of God. This proves to me that Joseph Smith was the Lord’s prophet and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His church, re-established in our day. I know that the Lord loves you. As you seek for it, your testimony will become stronger and stronger.