Recognizing and Following the Spirit
1) Why do each of us need the spirit?
Before I talk about how to recognize the spirit, how to follow its prompting, and how to always keep the spirit with us, I thought I would start with something very important. Why do we need the spirit? When I asked myself this question, my mind went back to one of my favorite Primary songs. So I thought I would read the words for you.
Through a still small voice, the Spirit speaks to me to guide me, to save me from the evil I may see. If I try to do what's right, he will lead me thru the night, direct me, protect me, and give my soul his light. Listen, listen. The Holy Ghost will whisper. Listen, listen to the still small voice.
There you have it. We all need the spirit so we can be guided, to be saved from evil, to have direction, protection, and be filled with the light of Christ. After reading this list, I think we can all agree that having the spirit is something we need in our life. A Bishop needs the spirit so he can guide and direct his ward, the same way parents need the spirit to guide and direct and protect their children. I am going to need the spirit as a missionary so that I can be directed to those that need me, and so I can be protected while I’m away from home. Without the spirit, I won’t be able to find and teach those that the Lord has prepared for me. Each of us individually also needs the spirit so we can be guided to make important decisions, or be protected from harm, or just to have that Light of Christ in us so we can always be comforted. There are also times when we need to have the spirit not only for our guidance and protection, but so we can be an instrument for others.
When the 9th ward disappeared, and I became part of the 5th ward, it was really hard for me. I felt like since I only had a year left before I moved out, no one would try to get to know me because I was leaving. It was hard for me to make that adjustment and know I’d be coming back and visiting a ward that didn’t know me. I remember sitting in a lesson in Laurels just praying that I would know that Heavenly Father was looking out for me in this new ward. I don’t remember what the lesson was, or who taught it, but what I do remember is that my YW leader told the class that she had been preparing the lesson, but she didn’t feel like it was what the class needed to hear for some reason. She changed her lesson plan as directed by the spirit. That lesson was exactly what I needed. I just remember feeling peace and love. I knew that I was being watched over. Because my YW leader was listening to the spirit, I was blessed, and I knew that there were people who cared.
2) How do we recognize the spirit?
My YW leader was obviously following the promptings of the spirit. But how did she know it was the spirit? How can we know if it’s really the spirit that is inspiring us, and guiding us, and not just our own thought? President Packer described the voice of the spirit as this….
“The voice of the Spirit is described in the scripture as being neither ‘loud’ nor ‘harsh’. It is not a voice of thunder, neither voice of a great tumultuous noise. But rather, a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it can pierce even to the very soul and cause the heart to burn. The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all…if we do not heed the gentle feeling, the spirit will withdraw and wait until we come seeking and listening and say in our manner and expression, like Samuel of ancient times, ‘Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.’”
President Packer is describing this voice as a whisper. The impressions of the spirit aren’t going to come to us unless we are listening.
My family was at Seven Peaks one day when Jennifer was about 3, and she wandered off and got lost. My family panicked. We couldn’t find her anywhere. My mom feared that she had fallen into a pool, or been kidnapped. All of us were searching franticly. My dad, however, stopped panicking, and just prayed. He was searching out the spirit, and he was listening. The spirit told him to go to the front gate of the waterpark, and there was Jennifer.
Had my dad not stopped to listen to the spirit, it would’ve taken longer to find her, and probably would’ve given my mom a heart attack. But in this world of confusion, and turmoil, it can be hard to hear the spirit sometimes. In order to recognize the spirit, we need to slow down, and seek. The spirit is there ready to guide us. As a missionary, I know that I will need to be actively seeking the spirit. I cannot just sit around and wait for the spirit to zap me. I need to seek out its guidance so I can be in tune with that still small voice.
Now that we are actively searching out the spirit, we need to know what it feels like. The scripture Galatians 5.22-23 says this.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance:
When I read this scripture it brought me great comfort. Often times I think we all question whether or not a thought or an impression is the spirit, or if it’s just our own idea. The scripture says simply that the Spirit is love, joy, peace, and goodness. So when we are impressed by any of these feelings, we know it comes from the spirit. Everyone feels the spirit differently. It’s either an idea, a burning in your heart, a peaceful feeling, or a feeling of caution. However we feel this feeling, if it’s any of the things listed in the scripture, it is the spirit of God. President Hinckley explains this concept beautifully. He said:
“That’s the test, when all is said and done. Does it persuade one to do good, to rise, to stand tall, to do the right thing, to be kind, to be generous? Then it is of the Spirit of God…If it invites to do good, it is of God. If it inviteth to do evil, it is of the devil…And if you are doing the right thing and if you are living the right way, you will know in your heart what the Spirit is saying to you.”
I don’t think I can say it any better myself. Elder Bednar told a great story that helped me understand this better.
Elder Bednar was the Stake President, and was presiding over a Stake priesthood leadership meeting. Elder Bednar and one of the Elder’s Quorum presidents both had a son participating in a championship basketball game during the meeting. Elder Bednar wrestled with the idea of going, and decided it was a great idea to go with the other man to the basketball game. Elder Bednar turned the meeting over to his counselor and took the other man with him to the game. Later on, the Elder’s Quorum president thanked Elder Bednar for his prompting to go to the game, because his son had died in an accident, and it was the last time he got to see him play.
Elder Bednar never thought it was a divine spiritual impression. It was just a thoughtful idea, but it was indeed guided by the spirit because it was an intent to do good. Elder Bednar acted on a thoughtful idea toward a fellow father wanting to support his son, but it was the spirit that gave him the idea. So if we ever question whether something of good intent is our own thought, or the spirit, we shouldn’t be confused or concerned. If it’s good, it is of God.
3) How do we keep the spirit?
I want to go back to a crucial point in President Hinckley’s quote. He mentioned that if we are doing the right thing and if we are living the right way, we will know in our heart what the Spirit is saying to us. It’s not enough just for us to listen and recognize it as the spirit. We need to live our lives worthy of the spirit. We need to be doing what we promised to do in the sacrament prayer. Always remember Him, keep his commandments, and we will always have His spirit with us. The former General Relief Society President Julie Beck said this:
“Qualifying for the Lord’s spirit begins with a desire for that spirit, and implies a certain degree of worthiness: Keeping the commandments, repenting, and renewing covenants made at baptism lead to the blessing of always having the Lord’s spirit with us.” “The ability to qualify for, receive, and act on personal revelation is the single most important skill that can be acquired in this life.”
It’s through small and simple things we learn in Primary that keep this beautiful gift of the Spirit with us. We often roll our eyes at these silly generic answers, but they aren’t silly. They are crucial. These simple answers are what we need to be living everyday so we can ensure that the spirit is with us. When an important decision comes up in life that isn’t a “good or bad” kind of decision, but a decision we really need the spirit’s help with, if we are living worthily of the spirit like President Hinckley said we can, quote: “know in our heart what the spirit is saying to us.” We need to be worthy of the spirit. We need to always have it with us when the answer isn’t so clear; when it isn’t just a prompting to do something nice. Obedience in this Gospel is key. I never understood clearly until now why obedience is so incredibly important as a missionary. If I’m not following all the rules in the handbook, I won’t have the spirit with me as strong, and I won’t have the guidance and direction I need. I’m going to need to be worthy of the spirit so I can have an answer when I don’t know what to say to an investigator, or when I’m desperately searching for someone who needs the Gospel, or when I’m just lost and don’t know what to say next, or when I’m teaching a lesson in Spanish, and I don’t know enough on my own to teach. The spirit is crucial in our lives, and it’s crucial for us to be worthy of its companionship. The last point I want to stress is probably the most important. We know why we need the spirit, we know how to recognize it, and how to be worthy of it, but now we need to act on those feelings.
4) Follow the spirit.
Acting on the spirit shows our devotion to God. It proves to Him that our desire to have his spirit with us is true, and demonstrates real intent. Following through with the spirit’s promptings is simply the last step of utilizing this gift in our lives. It’s all connected. Acting on the promptings shows Heavenly that we truly desire the spirit, and it helps us remain worthy, and it also helps us learn to recognize the spirit better. Sister Linda Burton, the General Relief Society President described it as this:
“Just as learning an instrument or a language is a process, learning the language of the Spirit is also a process, one that is vital for everyone to learn. It is through recognizing the voice of the Spirit that individuals are able to act and do what the Lord would have them do.”
Once we recognize the voice of the spirit, we can act on it and acting on it helps us better understand the language, or voice of the spirit. I know that if I don’t follow through with the promptings of the spirit on my mission, I won’t receive any of the blessings that come from acting on my feelings. I want to receive those blessings from having the spirit with me, and we all can if we have a desire to listen to that spirit and be worthy of it. And when we are worthy of it and have it with us always, we can receive those blessings. We can be guided, saved from the evil we may see, directed, protected, and receive the light from our Savior Jesus Christ. We can be comforted, and find peace through the spirit of our Heavenly Father. This is one of the greatest blessings we have been given on this earth. I want to do all that I can on my mission to be obedient, so that I can be worthy to have the spirit with me always.