What the metaphor of ‘a cloud of witnesses’ means to President Porter

In times of spiritual drought, remembering past witnesses can provide rain for parched souls, President Porter taught

Recently, as she was pondering the apostle Paul’s teaching about faith, Primary General President Susan H. Porter was struck by a phrase found in Hebrews 12:1

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

President Porter recalled: “As I read, I was filled with a desire to learn more about what Paul’s metaphor of ‘a cloud of witnesses’ might mean for me. It was clear from his teaching that a cloud of witnesses could have a powerful effect in my life, as it could help me lay aside every weight of sin I was carrying and patiently run the race of life, with my focus on the Savior.”

Speaking to students and faculty gathered during a BYU–Idaho devotional on Tuesday, June 6, in the BYU–I Center on the Rexburg, Idaho, campus, President Porter prayed that listeners would be able to develop “a great cloud of witnesses” that would strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ and enable them to run the race that is set before them.

Primary General President Susan H. Porter speaks during a devotional held in the BYU–I Center on the BYU–Idaho campus in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, June 6, 2023. | Madeline Jex, BYU–Idaho

Clouds of witnesses

President Porter noted that in the scriptures, clouds are often associated with the presence of Deity. “Clouds can carry both sacred messages and sacred messengers,” she said, such as the Israelites being guided by “a pillar of a cloud” (Exodus 13:21) or an angel descending “as it were in a cloud” to Alma the Younger (Mosiah 27:11).

Clouds in the sky are created when a body of water is warmed by the sun, President Porter explained. Heat causes water to evaporate into a gas, which then rises in the air until it is cold enough to condense into droplets. Even though each drop of water is small, millions of tiny droplets gathered together result in a beautiful cloud.

“When the Spirit of God shines in our hearts, we receive a witness of Heavenly Father and His Son that is like a drop of water. Each experience we have with the Spirit of God may be small, but when all of our experiences are combined, they form our own cloud of witnesses,” President Porter said.

President Porter spoke of when she fasted and prayed about whether to accept her future husband’s proposal of marriage. Eventually she realized that God had been answering her all throughout their courtship — with small witnesses at every step. 

Recognizing that many of her listeners are facing important decisions about their futures, President Porter encouraged them, “Pray to Heavenly Father to open your eyes, heart and mind to receive the direction He is sending, even in small drops.”

Individuals’ clouds of witnesses may start out looking like cirrus clouds, which do not hold much water. “With concerted effort, they may grow over time to become cumulus clouds, which are large and billowing. They are beautiful and hold life-giving moisture that can refresh our parched souls in times of need,” President Porter taught.

BYU–Idaho students listen to remarks by Primary General President Susan H. Porter during a devotional held in the I-Center on the BYU–Idaho campus in Rexburg, Idaho, on Tuesday, June 6, 2023. | Nicolette Muhlestein, BYU–Idaho

Recording witnesses

In 2007, Elder Henry B. Eyring, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke in general conference about writing down, sometimes just a few sentences, every day for years about how God reached out to his family that day.

After hearing Elder Eyring’s witness of what he had experienced, the Porter family compiled a short book of experiences when they had witnessed the hand of God in their lives. “Although it’s been over 15 years, my faith is strengthened every time I read those witnesses,” President Porter said.

Just as individuals can store electronic information “in the cloud” and access it anywhere, individuals can write their witnesses so they can draw on them for the day they need to remember how much God loves them and how much they need Him.

In times of spiritual drought, remembering past witnesses can provide rain for parched souls, President Porter said. “Remembering our witnesses can give us confidence that God was with us in the past and will be with us again.”

In conclusion, President Porter testified, “As we look up to the clouds, may we be filled with a desire to stay true and faithful to God, so that we will be counted worthy to be witnesses of the Savior when He comes again in clouds of glory.”

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