Sunday, March 23, 2014

Recognizing and Responding to the Holy Ghost

Last week I discussed the difference between the Spirit of the Lord or the Light of Christ and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Today I want to share my thoughts on recognizing and responding to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

One of the most frequent questions that Elder David A. Bednar is asked when he is speaking to students is “how can I tell the difference between my emotions telling me what I want to hear and the Holy Ghost telling what I need to hear?” (“Receiving, Recognizing, and Responding to the Promptings of the Holy Ghost”, Ricks College devotional address, August 21, 1999). This is one of the most important questions we can ask as we grow closer to the spirit and receive promptings from the Holy Ghost. One of the first things we need to understand is how the Lord communicates with us. During the month of September 2013 I discussed these methods of communication and will not take the time today to discuss it. I would encourage you to click on the blog archive to the right and go to those topics and read them.

Gordon Limb spoke of five ways to increase our capacity to receive and respond to the promptings of the spirit in a devotional talk at Brigham Young University. They are:

1.        Obedience to the commandments
2.        Sincere prayer
3.        Scripture study
4.        Service
5.        Taking the time to ponder and listen to the spirit

Obedience is the first principle because if we are not obeying the commandments of God we will not be worthy to have the Holy Ghost to dwell with us and we will not be in the frame of mind that will allow his promptings to come. Brother Limb said:

“First, living worthily invites the constant companionship of the Spirit. If you are not now worthy, repent and become worthy. For those who are endowed, go to the temple—the Lord’s classroom—and keep your covenants. I’ve heard students ask, “How can I tell if this is the Spirit I’m feeling?” If you are living worthily, Paul’s letter to the Galatians tells us that the fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22–23). These are all examples of what we feel when the Spirit is present.
“In striving to live worthily I am also encouraged by the discussion in section 46 of the Doctrine and Covenants about the gifts of the Spirit. Verse 9 states that “they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments” (emphasis added). Well, I love the Lord, but I don’t always keep all of the commandments. The last part of this verse adds an additional element of hope: “and him that seeketh so to do.” I am thankful that as I make mistakes and neglect to heed promptings but “seeketh so to” keep the commandments, a loving Father in Heaven and Savior are always there to help me get back on course if I will but keep repenting and keep trying.“ (Recognizing and Responding to the Promptings of the Holy Ghost”, Gordon Limb, BYU Devotional, March 5, 2013)

The second principle in helping us recognize the Spirit is sincere prayer and expressing gratitude. In his devotional talk Brother Limb quotes President Gordon B. Hinckley and Elder Richard G. Scott:

“The trouble with most of our prayers is that we give them as if we were picking up the telephone and ordering groceries—we place our order and hang up. We need to meditate, contemplate, think of what we are praying about and for and then speak to the Lord as one man speaketh to another. [TGBH, 469]
“Another key element in sincere prayer is gratitude. When was the last time you said a prayer and only expressed gratitude? About learning to recognize answers to prayer, Elder Richard G. Scott said:
“I have saved the most important part about prayer until the end. It is gratitude! Our sincere efforts to thank our beloved Father generate wondrous feelings of peace, self-worth, and love. No matter how challenging our circumstances, honest appreciation fills our mind to overflowing with gratitude.(“Recognizing and Responding to the Promptings of the Holy Ghost”, Gordon Limb, BYU Devotional, March 5, 2013)

Third, making scripture study part of our daily activities will increase our ability to recognize the promptings when they come. Brother Limb continues:

“Third, immersing ourselves in the scriptures invites the constant companionship of the Spirit. “Studying the scriptures trains us to hear the Lord’s voice” and recognize His Spirit (David M. McConkie, “Gospel Learning and Teaching,” Ensign, November 2010, 15). Scriptural immersion provides us with a unique insight into how others have received and responded to the promptings of the Spirit. Elder Bednar gave a great CES fireside talk entitled “A Reservoir of Living Water” (4 February 2007)—that I highly encourage you to read or reread—in which he talked about feasting on the word by searching the scriptures for connections, patterns, and themes. In our Church callings we have a handbook of instructions that tells us how to fulfill our callings. In living the gospel, our handbooks of instruction are the scriptures and the revealed word of God through His prophets.”  (“Recognizing and Responding to the Promptings of the Holy Ghost”, Gordon Limb, BYU Devotional, March 5, 2013)

The fourth and fifth steps in helping us recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost, according to Gordon Limb, are providing service and taking the time to ponder and listen for the spirit. He says:

Fourth, service invites the constant companionship of the Spirit. Do you realize that as others are seeking the Spirit to receive answers to their prayers, often the Lord uses us to answer those prayers? We had a Relief Society president in my ward who would often pray and ask, “Father, help me to be an answer to someone else’s prayer today.” Then, as she was going into work or coming home, she would drive around the ward enlisting the Spirit’s prompting to determine if there was a sister who needed her help. Numerous times as she was driving by a sister’s home or thinking of a particular sister, the Spirit would prompt her to stop by, bring dinner, or ask to watch the sister’s children. That Relief Society president knew what it meant to follow the promptings of the Spirit and be an answer to someone else’s prayer. That is Christlike service.
Finally, taking time to pause, ponder, and listen invites the constant companionship of the Spirit (see Caryn Esplin, “Recognizing and Increasing Personal Revelation,” BYU–Idaho devotional address, 31 July 2012). In our fast-paced, immediate-gratification world we can become so preoccupied with good things that we neglect the most important things. I have found that early in the morning, when things are quiet and my mind is focused, I am most receptive to the promptings of the Spirit.” (“Recognizing and Responding to the Promptings of the Holy Ghost”, Gordon Limb, BYU Devotional, March 5, 2013)

So now that we are doing these five things to cultivate the spirit, how can we recognize that a prompting is coming from the Lord and not our own thoughts? One of the ways is the feeling that comes with the prompting. The scriptures tell us that we will feel a burning in our bosom when it is from the Holy Ghost:

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me. (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8-9)

When we pray to know what to do, if the feeling is a warm burning we can know we are on the right course. If the feeling is confusion or another negative feeling then we are not getting the answer from the Lord. James P. Porter shares an experience he had with negative feelings:
“One of my earliest recollections of a personal experience with recognizing the Spirit came when I was a missionary in Korea. I had the responsibility to present a lesson about something to the missionaries at an upcoming zone conference. I felt strongly the desire to teach something that would motivate, uplift, and help the missionaries in our zone. I remember the weight I felt on my shoulders as I pondered, prayed, and prepared for that lesson. It wasn’t a pleasant weight. It was a heavy weight that burdened me as I struggled to find the right idea for the lesson. Then one day I had a burst of inspiration. Thoughts came into my mind and almost instantly I knew what to teach. I knew it was right because the heavy burden that had weighed me down was lifted. Instead, I felt exhilarated. I guess you could say I felt peace. I remember thinking, “This must be what it feels like to be prompted by the Holy Ghost.”

“In subsequent personal experiences with the Spirit I have noticed something. The peace that comes from the Spirit is often more recognizable when it comes in juxtaposition to a period of struggle and uncertainty. Perhaps the work and struggle on our part to study and ponder before receiving an answer is necessary because it makes the difference between our feelings of uncertainty and the feelings of peace offered by the Spirit distinct enough to be recognizable.” (Receiving and Recognizing the Holy Ghost”, James P. Porter, BYU Devotional, March 22, 2011)

Another way to recognize the spirit is when we pray to know what to do; we sometimes need to make a decision and act on that decision. If we are doing what the Lord would have us do, then the peace and assurance will come. If doubts and confusion fill us, then a course correction is needed: Elder Dallin H. Oaks shares this experience of Elder Bruce R. McConkie:

“When he spoke on the BYU campus some years ago on the subject “Agency or Inspiration,” Elder Bruce R. McConkie stressed our responsibility to do all that we can before we seek a revelation. He gave a very personal example. When he set out to choose a companion for eternity, he did not go to the Lord and ask whom he ought to marry. “I went out and found the girl I wanted,” he said. “She suited me; . . . it just seemed . . . as though this ought to be. . . . [Then] all I did was pray to the Lord and ask for some guidance and direction in connection with the decision that I’d reached” (Speeches of the Year, 1972–73 [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1973], p. 111).
“Elder McConkie summarized his counsel on the balance between agency and inspiration in these sentences:

“We’re expected to use the gifts and talents and abilities, the sense and judgment and agency with which we are endowed [p. 108]. . . .

Implicit in asking in faith is the precedent requirement that we do everything in our power to accomplish the goal that we seek [p. 110]. . . .

We’re expected to do everything in our power that we can, and then to seek an answer from the Lord, a confirming seal that we’ve reached the right conclusion.” (“Revelation”, Dallin H. Oaks, BYU Devotional, September 29, 1981)

I know that if we follow these principles to be worthy to have the Gift of the Holy Ghost to dwell with us and we recognize the feelings when they come we can know when the promptings are from the Lord. The next step then is to follow the promptings and go and do what the Lord asks us to do. When the Prophet Samuel in the Old Testament was young he was taught how to recognize the spirit and then to respond. After the spirit woke him three times and not know it was the Spirit of the Lord, he went to Eli, when Eli figured out that it was the Lord he told Samuel:

Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth. (1 Samuel 3:9)

If we will have the desire to hear the Lord when he speaks, we must also be willing to take the time to listen and then to get up and do the thing he would have us do.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

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