While all of us may have some experiences and memories of times when we have received clear impressions and instructions from the Holy Ghost, it is rarely an ability that we master without time and significant, consistent effort. In fact, sometimes it seems that God gives us Holy Ghost nibbles and snacks and then makes it difficult to get the rest of the banquet. And, in my opinion, this is exactly what He does and for good reason.

The Holy Ghost is a Gift, not an Entitlement

Unlike any other gift that God gives us, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is the one gift that is essential to our eternal salvation and exaltation. The Holy Ghost is the baptism of fire. He is the Master Teacher. He is the one who, because of the Atonement, can take our righteous desires plus our imperfect actions and effect real and permanent changes in our very souls. This makes the Holy Ghost the great Sanctifier. Even with the Atonement of Christ, without the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we cannot become like God nor even aspire to.

A gift like this God WILL protect. It is not for the passive Christian or the doubting Thomas’s. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is also not a gift with only one educational certificate that you can master by attending church a few times. There aren’t only a couple levels of personal revelation. Just as a person must participate in a basic course of education to become a doctor in any philosophy or profession (whether they are brilliant enough to skip grades and/or CLEP out of college courses), so also, recognizing the Gift of the Holy Ghost has nearly unlimited steps and degrees that must be pursued one at a time and with diligent, consistent faith and effort.

Christ was the most intelligent of us all. Yet, He humbled Himself to progress according to God’s will. He received grace by grace until He received a fullness (Doctrine and Covenants 93:13). He was perfect and yet He still was baptized, and so forth, to “fulfill all righteousness,” and to do His Father’s will (St. John 6:38), not His own. And, He didn’t make a fuss over having to do it. So, if we think we are too smart, or righteous enough at present, to submit to a path of hard work, humility, and diligence, then God will not force us to do so, nor will He lightly part with His guidance. We can demand that He give us proof and guidance in “our own way” and we will get exactly what we want (Alma 29:4)…to our own condemnation (Doctrine and Covenants 63:7-12).

The more Christlike we become, the greater our ability to recognize God’s promptings and guidance through the Gift of the Holy Ghost. And, though a doctor may spend up to 18 years or more reaching his/her desired level of understanding and education in a specific field, it would be very unwise to assume that the level and degree of promptings you can receive from the Holy Ghost ends as quickly time-wise and can be achieved with even a third of the effort.

So, if you’re looking for a quick answer, this blog cannot offer you a blanket set of ideals which will solve your struggles. At best, it will prescribe a course of “spiritual education and effort,” that, IF pursued will lead you along a path to your desired goal. It’s a prescription for years of hard work, study, hope, faith, and practice (St. John 7:17; 17:3). The prescription is simple and will follow below.

So, how bad to you want it?

Note: This blog post is directed specifically at recognizing promptings from “the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” For a commentary on the difference between the Light of Christ, the Power of the Holy Ghost, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost, please click here to visit a previous blog.

Hands opening a red gift box with ribbon in shadow

God Purposefully Requires Diligent and Consistent Effort in order to Access to Increasing Guidance from the Holy Ghost

Why does God make it so hard to recognize the guidance of the Holy Ghost? Is it some game to Him? Doesn’t He realize we are trying to do His will?

God doesn’t give guidance to those who don’t want it, don’t appreciate it, are skeptical of it, and don’t plan to follow it. He will invite you to seek His guidance, but He won’t give it lightly, “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33).

As well, God says (Alma 12:9-10):

It is given to many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they [the mysteries] are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of the word…according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. (See also Doctrine and Covenants 50:24)

The Gift of the Holy Ghost is just that—a gift. It is intended to be given to us in increasing amounts as we use it for its designed purpose: to grow, learn, become more Christlike, more humble, more faithful, more loving…more like God. So, if we get into a “I’m good like I am,” rut, then we may begin to struggle to receive continued guidance beyond the current level we have received to date. This is because the guidance is meant to lead us upward, not to keep us on the same plane we’ve camped on. We can’t be complacent or satisfied with a minimal, or even what we consider a high, level of righteousness.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost isn’t something we can use when it’s convenient. We can’t go crying to the Lord for help and then expect guidance to come if we haven’t been actively seeking His will to improve over time. Or, if we only seek guidance from the Holy Ghost for what we consider big decisions and ignore the little promptings about things He would have us improve on, change, forsake, or repent of, then we may find the Heavens silent, or at least a little slow in responding.

You may ask, “Well, even if I have been a little reluctant or complacent, when I go to God at last, you think He’d answer, right?” “He wants me back, right?” Well, while God loves us unconditionally, His love is true love—tough love. The kind none of us particularly like. But, the kind we actually need. Sure, He wants us back. But, it is also His work and glory to help us become as much like Him as possible (Moses 1:39). So, if withholding answers and guidance for a moment will lead us to re-evaluate our lives and become better; then God will likely withhold and give us a chance to desire, more deeply, such a priceless gift as the Holy Ghost. He will wait until we desire it so much that we are willing to come closer to Him and further away from our own will. He does this so that when He does answer we are humble and willing to follow His counsel. So that we have a greater chance of not taking it for granted.

Why doesn’t He let you make that decision? Why doesn’t He give without using tough love to help you improve? Because, “for he who sins against the greater light receives the greater condemnation” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:3). If God gives miracles and guidance and blessings when we are not willing to accept them or follow them, then our condemnation for not accepting or following is greater. In other words, the more you receive the more eternal trouble you can get for deciding not to accept that which is given to you. It would be unfair for God to punish us for not accepting light and truth if we weren’t prepared to receive or follow it. By withholding He is showing mercy.

The Prescription for Better Recognizing the Guidance of the Holy Ghost

President Monson, who seems to have a particular gift for recognizing the promptings of the Holy Ghost, gave these simple steps in several recent conference addresses (see endnotes for sources):

  1. Communicate daily with Heavenly Father in sincere prayer. God has commanded, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63).
  2. Be worthy to receive inspiration. God has said, “…seek me diligently…” (ibid)
  3. Trust inspiration when it comes. (Proverbs 3:5)
  4. Follow inspiration when it comes.

I might add:

  1. Pray less passively. Ask for ways to act, listen, feel, hear, and do; instead of praying with passive, generalized statements, like, “Please help me to…” or “Watch over me when…” An active statement in prayer might be, “Please show me how to ensure this journey is a safe one for our family,” or, “As I visit with my friend, please make bring things to my remembrance that I can share to help comfort him/her.” (Check out this address Ask In Faith by David Bednar as he teaches how to prayer with active prayer language, and this helps immensely in being led by the Holy Ghost)

So, that’s it. I might surmise that if you are having trouble getting the guidance you desire to receive, then you might try to: 1) pray more often and more sincerely and meaningfully (Ask In Faith), 2) become more worthy and seek God’s will more diligently, 3) be more trusting when inspiration comes, 4) follow more willingly and more quickly when inspiration does come.

Different Ways of Feeling or Receiving Promptings and Guidance

Now, if you’ve made it this far, then what I’d like to do is to talk a little bit about the different ways the Holy Ghost talks to and guides me. This won’t mean that He’ll talk to you the same way. But, by seeing how He talks to me in different situations, it might help you better ponder the possibilities for yourself. That’s all I can offer. The rest is up to you.

Reading the Scriptures

When I’m reading the scriptures and the Holy Ghost wants me to take note of something, I generally find that the verse subtly zooms out at me a bit and gives me pause making me want to reread it. Sometimes, that won’t happen, but I’ll read past the verse and then my mind will catch a certain word or phrase as a trigger and it takes me back to the verse. Then, on the second read it will often give me pause and I will see a direct correlation between a few words or a phrase in the verse and something in my life.

I don’t always feel a big weight or burning in my chest when this happens. But, often, when I reread the verse several times and ponder why it is giving me pause, thoughts will come to me or aspects of my life that seem to tie to these words or phrases. Then, there is another step, if I’m willing to take it. As I think about how I can apply these words or phrases to my life situation, when one of the things I think about and consider is right, then, I will often feel a strong mental weight on that action or idea. Often I’ll feel it is something I need to do now, or soon. Once the idea has been pressed upon me, it is not easily forgotten, and will continue to come to my mind as something that needs to be done—until I do it. If I ignore it long enough, it will go away, but I try not to do that.latter-day_saint_scripture_quadruple_combination

Other times, when reading my scriptures, I come across something that means something different to me than it did before. This is not a pillar-of-light kind of experience. But, it is enlightening. Usually, I review cross-references on the phrases that have a new meaning to me and find my mind carried away into aspects of a principle or truth I have never considered before. It’s a pleasant journey. It uplifts me. It’s exciting to learn something new. Then, if I continue to ponder how to apply it in my life (which is yet another step required), I will find ideas and inspiration coming to me. Not always in the moment. Sometimes it will come the next day, or days later. However, often, if I do not record these impressions, they are lost by the next day. Sometimes I can be reminded of them by revisiting the verses, but sometimes not. Then, I find that the more I record these types of minimal impressions, the more frequent they become and the new and deeper truths and doctrines I uncover.

These are two of the ways that the Spirit works with me when I’m studying my scriptures. It may be different for others. But, I can recognize when these moments come. And, they don’t come when I just read “to read.” They only come when I’m putting forth sincere effort.

Making Life Decisions

Learning to recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost in life decisions is not an easy task. I believe that the level of study and effort required to access this personal understanding says something about how sacred it is. Things given to us without effort and hard work are nearly always taken for granted, misused, exploited, wasted, etc. Not everyone who wins the lottery blows all the money and ends up in more debt than before winning, but the percentage who do is considerable.

I know some people who seem to get promptings for their life as easily as going to the faucet with a cup for water. However, I am NOT one of those people. I find generally, that the Lord lets me bump into walls and bounce about until I make my way down the path He intends for me. I often run spiritual marathons before finding a drop of water on a leaf that hasn’t dried up from a recent rain. So, I’m not about to tell anyone anything that will lead them to believe it’s easy to get promptings. However, I do know, after much bumping and running, how the Spirit speaks to me. And, at least for me, He always does.

When it comes to decisions, I am usually already trying consistently to keep the commandments, live worthy of the Spirit, and seek the Lord’s will. Because of this, I make my pros and cons lists. I study it out in my mind. I ask all the suggested questions, like: “Will this choice help me serve the Lord better? Will this move, or this job change, help me and my family come closer together and to the Lord? Etc.” Then, instead of asking the Lord to tell me which decision to make based on my research, I have learned, that for me, the Lord expects me to make a decision first and start moving toward it. Only then does the Holy Ghost exert influence upon me in the form of validation or an icky feeling that makes me feel uncomfortable with my choice.

Many people often overlook the “studying it out.” But, even more forget to “make a decision” before asking “if it be right”(Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9). And, for me, I have to actually exert effort and time into pursuing a decision before the feelings of “yes this is good,” or “no, don’t do this,” comes.

Many people take the words from Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9 so literally, that if they don’t get an immediate “burning in the bosom,” while they are still on their knees in prayer, they get confused. Yet others take the words “stupor of thought” to mean that while they are on their knees in prayer they will completely forget what they were praying about. I don’t know if this actually happens to some people. If it does, then lucky they are. However, for me, the confirmation or stupor of thought happen a bit differently.

All of us are familiar with small magnets. If you put two of the same poles together they push away from each other. If they are small, you can exert sufficient force to hold them together, but the moment you stop exerting force, they push apart naturally. On the other hand, if you put two opposing poles near each other they pull together without any extra exertion from you.Red and Blue Horseshoe Magnet Isolated on White Background

This magnet example is how most (though not all) of my life decisions come to me. If it is a good thing or even the best choice, it just “sits right.” This doesn’t mean there aren’t ever any external barriers, but as far as my mind, logic and heart are concerned, the idea makes sense and attracts me to it. On the other hand, things that are not wise choices, or that are not the best choice God would have me make; while they might sound nice or seem logical, they simply don’t “sit well.” I have to sort of force the idea on myself since it sounds so nice. But, I’m never comfortable with it. And, if I stop trying to make myself consider this unwise or not best choice, I do sort of stop thinking about it. It falls to the side and becomes unimportant or pales in comparison to another option or idea that arises. This is my particular kind of “stupor of thought.”

Now, some life decisions I have felt a big “no” or “yes” on. But, they are not common for me and I can remember all of them. So, sometimes I have received a more significant “burning in the bosom” or a weight of impression that is unmistakable. But, I can also say, that the better I get at recognizing the magnet-promptings, the more clear and understandable all of my promptings are becoming. But, I’m nearly 40 and I’ve been working at this since I got a testimony of the gospel at age 14. So, 26 years of practice.

Being Inspired at Church

If I am making an earnest attempt to pay attention and participate at church, I find that it’s not really the lesson, or talk, itself that impacts me. But, often, a certain phrase spoken a certain way, or an experience someone shares, or some small piece of what they do or ask triggers an idea or memory in my mind and heart. The idea or memory that comes past that trigger is often unrelated to the general topic being taught or spoken on, though not always. This is often how I know it’s a prompting.

Now, when I say “unrelated” I mean that it is unlikely that I would ever have made the connection between this phrase from the talk/lesson and a certain idea or memory on my own. It’s not impossible. So, I suppose it could be justified away. But, it’s happened so many times in my life that either I’m stupendously brilliant in ways other people are not, OR, the Holy Ghost is bringing these ideas and memories to my remembrance (St. John 14:26).

Preparing a Lesson

As I have noted in my blog entry “Teaching BY the Spirit or Some Other Way,” the Holy Ghost works somewhat differently in the teaching environment. Teaching is a different situation than basic personal revelation. It’s different than just having the Holy Ghost with you. It’s even different than getting up to bear your testimony. Why? Because you are not doing it for yourself. You are acting as an instrument through which the Holy Ghost can work to accomplish His task as the Master Teacher to both you AND those whom you are called to teach.

If you want to understand how the Holy Ghost works in teaching, then I refer you to that blog entry.

Conclusion

Now, there are lots of different aspects of life and for each of us the Holy Ghost will work with us differently based on our personalities, emotional/psychological state, talents, and spiritual gifts. I don’t have the knowledge or the ability to tell each of you how to figure out how the Holy Ghost works for you. That’s your job and His job.

So, that’s it. If you really want to get better at recognizing the Spirit, then you’ve got to work at it using the steps given by President Monson. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the most valuable gift you will ever receive in this life. Thus, it’s the most difficult gift to make use of. It transcends all money, possessions, intellect, fame, glory, etc. The Holy Ghost is the second baptism, the baptism of fire. If you do not seek His guidance, if you do not allow Him to sanctify you through diligently seeking to follow His promptings, then what remains to you? There’s either “you + a member of the godhead,” or “just you.”

I don’t know about the rest of you. You are free to feel and think as you wish. But, for me, I have found this gift of guidance from the Holy Ghost to be worth all of my efforts—through times of doubt, times of trial, and times of peace. I know, for myself, that the Holy Ghost is real. And, I can confidently promise any who read this that if you follow the simple steps above, and exercise hope and faith, that in time you will come to recognize the promptings and guidance of the Holy Ghost well enough to live your life well, and with confidence in the Lord.

BT

Doctrine: The Holy Ghost is a gift, not an entitlement. God purposefully requires diligent and consistent effort in order to access increasing guidance from the Holy Ghost. There are 4 simple steps to coming to better recognize guidance from the Holy Ghost. There are lots of different possibilities and ways the Holy Ghost may try to communicate with you.

End Notes

Thomas S. Monson, “Consider the Blessings,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 86-69.

Thomas S. Monson, “Stand in Holy Places,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 82-86.

Thomas S. Monson, “Tabernacle Memories,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 41-42.

In a church where people talk about having “the truth,” and being so grateful to have “the truth,” I find that so many are fuzzy on what an actual truth, or doctrine, is. I know all of us understand that we have been blessed with truth. But, when I ask people (adults or youth) to state a truth, they often stare at me uncertain of what to say.

Now, I suspect that many factors may be the cause. Perhaps it’s because I’ve put them on the spot. Perhaps it’s because it’s hard to choose from hundreds of truths that they know. Or, it might also be that while they understand the idea of truth generally, they have very little understanding of it specifically, or how to generate or identify specific truths from looking at a piece of content.

For example. If I say, “Read St. John 17:3 and tell me what truth(s) you find there,” many people look at me stumped. And, I look back, stumped as to what the issue is. It’s a fairly simple scripture: “And this is life eternal that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.”

Possible truths from this very short scripture (though there are likely many more) that I can identify:

  • God and Jesus Christ are separate beings (if we have to come to know them both)
  • Eternal life comes through knowing God and Jesus
  • God sent Jesus Christ to us
  • Eternal life is possible

However, if I ask someone to tell me what they believe, what their beliefs are, then, all of the sudden they are spouting truths…and doctrines—for the most part.

What is a Doctrine?

A doctrine is: a fundamental, eternal, unchanging truth. It is something that was, is, and always will be (D&C 93:24; Jacob 4:13). It doesn’t change. Principles are tied very closely to doctrines and so often it makes little sense to define them separately. But, most usually they are the framework built upon foundational doctrines. Thus, principles rarely, if ever, change. But, applications—which people teach more than anything else—are changeable, adaptable, and often individual and personal.

So, when we are seeking for doctrines, we are looking for fundamental, unchanging truths. Looking back up, notice that the truths/doctrines I pulled from St. John 17:3 are exactly that—fundamental. God and Christ will always be separate beings. We can’t get eternal life if we don’t know God and Jesus Christ and have a relationship with them. God sent Christ to us (St. John 3:16-17). Eternal life is possible or we wouldn’t be here. All unchanging, fundamental truths of our life here on earth and of the gospel.

All of these individual statements of truth are a whole blog on their own. But today my focus is helping others find and identify clear doctrines. It’s a spiritual skill many lack merely because they’ve never been presented with the idea that they should acquire it. I would like to suggest that from this point in history onward, the ability to identify both true and false doctrine is the most important spiritual skill we can acquire.

I was reading last night in 1 Nephi and I came upon some very beautiful scripture—scripture referring to our time, our day, and doctrine.

1 Nephi 15:14

And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord; and then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him; wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved.

Here are the truths/doctrines that I can pull from this scripture:

  • We are of the House of Israel
  • We are the covenant people of the Lord (with a sacred responsibility–not an elite title–to dispense the gospel and it’s ordinances to the world)
  • We need the knowledge of the Redeemer and the very points of His doctrine so that we may know how to come unto Him and be saved

Obviously, the truth that sticks out the most to me is that we need to know Christ (have a relationship with Him) and understand “the very points of His doctrine,” so that we can know how to come unto Him and be saved.

Do you know how to identify doctrine? Do you know how to identify false doctrine?

So many people fall away from the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ because they fail to understand true doctrine and how to identify false doctrine. Thus, they are led away by “every wind of [false] doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).

In 1 Nephi 15:11 it says:

Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.

Here is one of many scriptures in which God gives a formula for getting answers (i.e. doctrine), for receiving personal revelation.

  1. Harden not your hearts
  2. Ask in faith, believing ye shall receive
  3. While diligently keeping the commandments you do understand

What does it mean to “harden not your hearts?” Well, something hard is inflexible. It’s usually impenetrable. It’s sometimes easily broken or brittle. Other substances roll off, cannot penetrate, or bounce off of it.

So, if you have a hard heart you can surmise the figurative connections. You have a set way of thinking and you are not willing to consider other information or perspectives (inflexible), not even for comparison or to strengthen your current point of view. You do not let the Spirit get in. You stop Him from entering by justifying actions or emotions that do not have the Spirit/Him as their source (impenetrable). Your anger or emotions are so full within you that it takes very little to break you, or set you off (brittle). You deny, dismiss, devalue, or reject kindness, guidance, help, service, or especially the idea that you may be wrong or deceived.

If you want to be able to identify true doctrine and false doctrine, you must have a soft heart. If your heart is hard, you have to soften it. If you’re going through the motions, you have to stop and smell the spiritual roses. If you’re justifying unrighteous actions in the name of righteousness, you’ve got to stop. If you’re justifying emotions and actions that are not godly to prevent being confronted with other ideals, you’ve got to stop deceiving yourself. If you’re looking for pillars of light every time you seek for truth you’re going to have to open yourself up to other types of light: enlightenment, peace, love, joy, feelings of wanting to do good and to serve, etc.

Asking in faith, believing that ye shall receive. This is not overly complex. It has to at least refer to our attitude. If you ask God as a dare or challenge, that is not faith. That is a doubtful, vengeful attitude. Asking in faith doesn’t require vast amounts of energy. It merely translates to allowing yourself to hope and to believe. To ask help for your unbeliefs or doubts, and express your hope for confirmations and guidance.  It’s far more about eliminating the negative than pretending to be overly confident, or to not have doubts (Mark 9:24). We all have doubts. It’s humility. It’s hope and belief.

Continuing to be diligent… Often people want to put their obedience on hold until they have proof. That’s like asking your current employer to give you a raise and more responsibility while you quit working and chill in the work room. Promising then to go back to work and assume your new responsibilities once the raise has been issued. Yes, it’s that silly.

Asking in faith while diligently keeping the commandments is critical to being able to identify true and false doctrines. You can’t abandon the truth you thought you understood while hoping to figure out the truth you are still trying to figure out.

  • All doctrine—all fundamental, unchanging, eternal truths are interrelated and connected with other fundamental, unchanging truths. This is because it all comes from God.
  • If you are acting upon the truths you know, or are more confident in, then it makes you more susceptible to discovering the truths you seek.
  • If you are acting in truth, it makes it possible to identify false truths. The very quality of being involved in truth makes untruths more clear. It increases the contrast.
  • The less truth/light you espouse (while you wait for confirmation) decreases your ability to recognize and to identify false truths.

D&C 84:45:

For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

D&C 50:24-25

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you;

Truths/doctrines I identified from these scriptures (though there are likely more):

  • True doctrine is light
  • Truth/doctrine is inseparable from the Spirit
  • That which comes from God is light (and truth/doctrine)
  • The more light (truth/doctrine) we receive the more light (and truth/doctrine) we can perceive and receive
  • Understanding that truth is light allows us to perceive and remove the darkness

So, if you have a soft heart and you are wanting God to reveal truth to you, all you have to do is immerse yourself in the word of God (including the Bible—as far as it is translated correctly, Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants, Conference addresses, and Church lesson manuals).

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t truth outside the Standards Work of the church. I’m not. There is truth everywhere. But, I am suggesting that all truths—even more secular ones (like psychology, chemistry, geology, etc.) still tie back, fundamentally to the most deep and fundamental gospel truths. So, I would admonish caution. Just like spring water that bubbles up from the ground. The further you get from the pure source of God’s word, the more likely you’ll find the purity infused with interpolations, omissions, and speculation. And, the tinier the interpolations, omissions, and speculation the easier it is to be taught false doctrine. So, be cautious.

How to Identify Doctrines

One of the best ways to identify doctrine is to focus on small portions. Take one quote from a prophet, or one verse or two from the scriptures. Or, look at a whole storyline from a chapter (or chapters). After reading the quote, or verses, follow a series of questions or pondering similar to this:

  • Write what it means to you in your own words.
    • Try to start with the words, “I can_______” or “Because of ______ I can _______” or “My ______” so that your formulate your feelings and ideas into a statement of truth. Trying to come up with if/then statements is also a good way to tackle it. There are other ways to start statements, but this helps if you struggle to begin.
  • Break the quote, verses, or storyline down into several small phrases or ideas/teachings. Write what each of these phrases means to you in your own words (trying to formulate it as a statement of truth).
  • Answer the following questions (as applicable):
    • What action, trait, feeling, or habit does this quote teach me about that helps me become like God?
    • What principles of the gospel does this pertain to?
    • What ordinances and covenants does this help me to make/keep?
    • What part of the plan of salvation does this help me to accomplish?
    • What would my life be like without this belief, teaching, or truth?

Let’s practice.

Consider this quote by Dieter F. Uchtdorf from the most recent October 2017 Conference and run through the steps above. Try not to read past it (to my examples) before you’ve tried at least one on your own. Why? Because you may be prompted by the Spirit to see something I didn’t see. If you look only at my examples, you may miss personal revelation and direction.

There may be many things about life that are beyond your control. But in the end, you have the power to choose both your destination and many of your experiences along the way. It is not so much your abilities but your choices that make the difference in life.

No, go try the steps before reading on. Just try one or two to start. Not all questions apply to every quote, scripture, or storyline.

latter-day_saint_scripture_quadruple_combination

Possible truths, put into my own words, from this quote:

  • I can control only certain things in my life
  • I can choose my destinations
  • I can choose many, but not all, of my experiences in life
  • My choices make more of a difference than my abilities

How these statements of truth help me to become like God:

God acts, He is not acted upon (2 Nephi 2:14). He is not a reactor, He is an actor. That’s how He remains God. By taking control of what I can control and letting go of what I can’t control, I become an active agent who does not allow my circumstances to dictate who I am or who I will become. I can choose.

What would my life be like without these truths?

Now, that’s a question that each of you can answer. Because, you know what your life is like currently. You know if you currently understand and act upon these truths. You know if you need to embrace and act upon these truths. Thus, you know what your life has been like without them, and you may likely guess how you need to change to integrate them into your life.

These statements of truths above are doctrines. They will not change.

Consider this scripture Ether 12:27:

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 faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

No, go try some of the steps…

Possible truths put into my own words from this quote:

  • I can be shown my weakness if I come unto Christ
  • I can choose to be humble (I may be humble) because of the weakness God has given unto me
  • My weakness can become a strength if I humble myself before God and have faith in Him

What trait this helps me to develop as I try to become like God:

Christ was humble before God despite His godly strengths. He was also humble before God because of His mortality (or weakness). His weakness made Him able to be our Savior, set an example for us, truly sympathize with our mortal struggles, and thus it became a strength to Him, to God, and to us. By using my weakness to serve the Lord I can also be a savior of others, set a specific example, truly sympathize with others’ mortal struggles, and thus turn it into a strength.

The part of the plan that this helps me to accomplish:

Weakness increases my opportunity to live by and exercise my faith in Christ. Faith is the first step in becoming like God and embracing the ordinances and covenants that will help me become like Him.

Note that every time I tried to make a statement I created a doctrine/truth. Every time I tried to answer one of the questions, I ended up making several statements of doctrine/truth. The applications…they were vague. What actions I need to control and not try to control. What ways I use my weakness to serve the Lord, set an example, etc. are all up to me. But, the doctrines discovered and noted were clear. The “why” behind the applications was clear, though I took no time to develop possible applications.

Don’t Focus on Seeking Applications or Teaching Applications

Too often we all judge others by our own individual applications of doctrine and thus judge unrighteously. We judge by the applications (which are variable) and not by the doctrine. We often then teach applications instead of doctrine…thus, polluting the doctrine with our own interpolations and omissions and speculations. We think if we tell others how to live they will live and be happy. Only to find that they don’t “get it,” because they don’t understand the gospel. This is because we have taught them behaviors and applications and not doctrine. We can’t do that anymore. Not for one more day or hour. We, and our children, need doctrine. They need to know how to recognize it, find it, and identify  it. They need God’s light! We need God’s light.

Learning to recognize, find, and identify true doctrines is how the paragraph in 1 Nephi 15:14 can be accomplished in our time

As we learn to identify true doctrines we will be able to more clearly identify false doctrines. And thus, as a generation of the gospel, we will have the power to come unto Christ and be saved. We can be saved from the false doctrines of our day. We can be saved from much sorrow and pain and confusion as we actively seek doctrine. As we more deeply understand the “why” behind all of the commandments, principles, and applications of the gospel, we will have our testimonies built firmly upon the foundations of the doctrines of Christ (Helaman 5:12). We will be unshakeable. We will know God and Jesus Christ through our experiences with their very personal instruction to us through the power and Gift of the Holy Ghost.

We can come unto Christ and be saved as we learn to identify and understand “the very points of His doctrine.”

Boyd K. Packer taught:

True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.

The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior [or application] quicker than a study of behavior [or applications] will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel.

I love doctrine. I crave it. I look for it (true and false) in everything I watch, read, or hear. We all need to learn to love true doctrine and to crave it, not only so that we can come unto Christ. But so that we can help others come unto Him, and be saved.

Want More Holy Ghost? Seek More Doctrine!

Just remember, doctrines don’t change. Applications can. The Holy Ghost uses doctrine to teach us individual application. It’s not the other way around. Teaching applications is a dramatic spiritual power drain. Doctrine/truth and the Spirit are inseparable. So, without doctrine, the Holy Ghost is limited in His power to guide us. As we learn to pull doctrine from everything we are exposed to (or learn to identify false doctrine), our power to be taught by the Holy Ghost will increase exponentially. He will use those clear, unchanging truths to teach us specific applications for our own lives (not necessarily for others). We will recognize His voice in our lives more than ever before. His ways of communicating with us will become clear.

What is doctrine? It’s truth. It’s light. It’s the power to be taught and tutored by the Holy Spirit. It’s life eternal.

BT

Doctrine: You can’t be removed from God’s love. But, you can be removed from his ultimate blessings and glory. You may never stop hearing the voice of the Spirit, but you can limit the kinds of messages He is able to deliver.

LDS Living puts out some good articles. But, people need to remember that they are a periodical that is NOT church supported. Thus, they get some good stuff from time to time, but they are prone to emotionalism (which all newspapers/magazines) are, and they will turn a title or publish an article just to get readers. They subsist on readers and they will do what it takes to get them.

I don’t follow LDSLiving, though I do often check out the articles shared by others who read them. Most of the time they are alright. Sometimes, they are great. But, I have often noted a strong lack of doctrinal underpinning (which is a major problem leading to doctrinal aberrations), and a quick propensity to publish articles that lead to doubt rather than faith. So, today’s post is to address an article they’ve posted (based on a request from a good friend who found it confusing) that’s lacking a clear, doctrinal foundation.

That article is titled One Dangerous and Untrue Thing About Sin Mormons Need to Stop Believing.

The first issue with this article is the emotionalism the title prompts. This is a journalism tactic. It evokes fear and panic. However, if the panic is well-founded (which it rarely is), then OK. But, this article, by a wonderful lady (@qnoor_templedress) whom I follow on Instagram, has been titled wrong. It should be called, You Can’t Escape God’s Love.

The title is the biggest issue, and that is because it pre-conditions the reader to look for some major issue or sin with how the LDS Church (or its lay members) teaches truth. It breeds doubt before faith…my biggest issue with a lot of LDSLiving articles. Thus, it becomes an accusatory article. However, the article (in near direct opposition to its title) is a personal testimony about how God is always with us.

The fact that the author of the article refers to her own uncertainties about how lay leaders and members understand and teach how the Spirit works is not unprecedented. Keeping the doctrine of the church pure is a primary function of The Church (i.e., the organization of prophets, apostles, etc.); and it gets more and more difficult the larger the church gets, and that’s because people play the game telephone by generalizing church doctrines into phrases that lead to open interpretation and misunderstanding by those who didn’t coin the phrase (I’ve blogged about this issue before). And, so when it gets regurgitated it comes out as an aberration which is nearly always turned into a false doctrine.

Each person who teaches the gospel is required to pass on to others, in pure and undistorted form, the truths for which such great sacrifices have been made.

President Gordon B. Hinckley stated:

I have spoken before about the importance of keeping the doctrine of the Church pure, and seeing that it is taught in all of our meetings. I worry about this. Small aberrations in doctrinal teaching can lead to large and evil falsehoods (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 620).

What we have in this article by LDSLiving is a small aberration. An aberration is a precursor to false doctrine NOT because the individual always intends to teach false doctrine but because the way they state something leaves it open to interpretations that spread false doctrine. This is easy to do because none of us understands everything. This is why it’s so important for us to study, prepare, and to be careful what we teach and how we teach it. If we are unsure of something, we should not BS or makeup stuff, or generalize hoping that the Spirit cleans it up for us. We must obtain the word before we preach it (Doctrine and Covenants 11:21).

So, if you have issues trying to figure out how the Holy Ghost works, then I refer you to a previous blog and from there a host of scriptures, hard work, pondering, and study. From here onward, I’m going to talk about grace, the Spirit, AND the things about sin people need to keep believing.

This article, with its aberration, prompts the idea that there are no consequences to sin. Note, the author doesn’t say there are no consequences to sin AT ALL. And, I would bet if you asked her that teaching such an idea was not her purpose. But, her frustrations and the accompanying generalities in her testimony leave the reader open to the idea (if they choose to entertain it) that there are no consequences to sin as regards the Holy Ghost. But, there clearly are, so, let’s refer to some scriptures which can clarify the doctrines we need to understand about sin, the Holy Ghost, and God’s mercy and grace.

Doctrine and Covenants 1:31, “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.”

Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21, “There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we receive any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

Doctrine and Covenants 82:10, “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”

1 Nephi 17:45, “…he hath spoken to you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore he has spoken unto you like the voice of thunder…”

1 Nephi 15:9, “And they said unto me: we have not, for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.”

Doctrine and Covenants 88:34, “And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.”

Doctrine and Covenants 137:9, “For I the Lord God will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.”

Now, I could keep going with scriptural references, but now let’s get to the point.

Does God ever abandon us? Ever? No (Luke 15:4; Romans 8:29). But, the type of relationship we can have with Him (now, and eternally), and the type of communication we can receive from Him (now, and eternally) does change based upon our actions, whether sinful or righteous.

God gives truth and light (and salvation) to us line upon line and precept upon precept (Doctrine and Covenants 98:12); and I would add, covenant upon kept covenant.

Truth Torn Paper

What people misunderstand and thereby teach with aberrations is how the Holy Ghost works. The Gift of the Holy Ghost works very much like the Liahona, according to the faith and heed and diligence we give unto Him (1 Nephi 16:28; Alma 12:9). If we listen to Him and follow, we will get more and more personal revelations, knowledge, and light which is intended to sanctify us over time and make us godly. If we only listen to Him when we feel like it, the messages and information we get will reflect our faith, heed, and diligence.

For example:

Note that Nephi tried to keep the commandments of God. I’m sure he was far from perfect (even annoying as a person), but he was in a state of forward progression, living the commandments, repenting, and following the Spirit. Thus, his own actions and diligence in seeking God’s will, guidance, and mysteries led him in a path of revelation and personal sanctification. He got to see visions and receive doctrinal truths and interpretations of scripture and dreams. His mind was opened up to amazing things. And, whatever his personality or disposition, he was faithful, diligent, humble, and quick to forgive.

In contrast, Laman and Lemuel were fair weather friends with God. They only followed God’s commandments if it suited their own, personally designated plans for happiness. They were often rude, vulgar, impatient, mocking, bullying, degrading, prone to anger and violence, pride, and grudge-holding. Lehi communicated God’s love to them through priesthood blessings and fatherly council, but he couldn’t promise them the same blessings as Nephi, Sam, and Zoram—because of their sinfulness.

Thus, when Nephi asked Laman and Lemuel why they hadn’t asked God about their questions regarding Lehi’s dream, they said, “…the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us,” and they were right. God never had communicated such things to them because they had never sought it nor been worthy of it. Because of their mindset about God, God’s commandments, and His plan and will for them, they were not abandoned by the Spirit, but the types of communications they could receive from Him were limited to their limited faith, heed, and diligence.

The author of the LDSLiving article likely understands this principle. Yet, her frustrations were with an apparent lack of correct doctrinal teaching in her youth. She was led to believe, based on generalizations and aberrations, that God, and the Holy Ghost, would completely forsake her if she sinned. What she found in her own straying times did not agree with what she felt she had been taught. Thus, her frustration that these girls she speaks to might be getting the same soup of aberrated thoughts and false doctrines. Her desire was pure. She wanted them to know that even if they messed up, God loved them. And, she wanted them to know that so that they would have the courage to repent and seek His face again…with hope—as she did.

Can God communicate His love to us even if He can’t allow us into the temple? Yes. Can God comfort us even if He can’t teach us deeper truths and reveal to us things that will make us more like Him? Certainly.

As the author of the LDSLiving article indicated, God is always with us. However, it’s the status of the relationship and our ability to progress that is affected by our sins. If we persist in sin we can’t expect God to answer all our questions about Him and His plan…because we aren’t capable of understanding, accepting, and acting on such revelation. Therefore, we are limited in our progress in becoming like Him in many areas of truth we become “past feeling” until we sincerely repent and open ourselves up again to those other messages.

Also, it is important to note that since all sin and righteousness are accompanied by consequences (both mortal and eternal), that any sin does result in a loss of access to upward progress toward God, and often as well in a loss of mortal protection and guidance (because we are “past feeling”). Well did Lehi quote God when he said, “And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to land of promise…(1 Nephi 2:20).Portrait of a liar

God’s whole plan is to lead us to become like Him. Thus, any other path leads us to not become like Him and is thereby a lesser path with lesser messages, blessings, and progress. It does not lead us to the same knowledge, protection, blessings, and ultimate glory UNLESS we repent and change course. Which, of course, we can always do—if we are sincere. Then, our sinful experiences are changed to glorified ones BECAUSE WE REPENTED. Sin cannot lead us upward if it is not accompanied by repentance.

Now, the worst aberration that I see members and leaders of the Church spreading is, “Our goal is to get home to God.” WRONG. Our goal is to BECOME LIKE GOD. There is a HUGE DIFFERENCE. And this aberration, I have found, leads to most others, including misconceptions about grace and the atonement. But, I’ve blogged about those repeatedly and will likely continue so I won’t go into those today.

So, does sin affect our access to the Holy Ghost? Yes, it affects the types of messages He can deliver. Does sin affect our progress in becoming like God? Yes, if we do not learn from it, truly desire righteousness, and meet the conditions for repentance. Does God ever abandon us? No, but He cannot change the law for us or deny His word, and so consequences for sin stand.

If you are a youth and you are living in sin, you will still feel God’s love. He will still seek after you. He will still offer as much to you as you are willing to receive by your actions and sincere desires. But, you will lose out on blessings IF you do not repent. You will lose out on spiritual (and sometimes other mortal) opportunities during those times you persist in sin. IF you repent sooner, rather than later, much can be maintained (or restored to you). But, IF you persist in sin and procrastinate repentance you will begin to become the actions you espouse, and therefore repentance becomes more difficult as the years pass, though it is ALWAYS possible.

You can’t be removed from God’s love (Roman’s 8:29). But you can be removed from His ultimate blessings and glory (Doctrine and Covenants 132:21-23).

BT

Doctrine: The Gift of the Holy Ghost is about being in constant communication with the Almighty God. The baptism of fire, or the Holy Ghost, is prerequisite to entering God’s celestial kingdom. God’s commandments are how we gain spiritual reception and receive His messages, guidance, correction, and inspiration. When we place ourselves in places and circumstances that allow us to get the spiritual reception we need, the Holy Ghost can deliver His heavenly correspondence. By communicating with God, and especially by receiving His messages, we come to know Him!

If you are Christian, then what you are trying to become is more “like Jesus.” This results in a desire to emulate and to invite others to also emulate Him. However, if you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you aspire not only to emulate Christ and invite others to do so, but to actually become like Him, which includes inheriting and sharing in His glory (Romans 8:16-17).

When we are baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we covenant to:

  • Take upon us the name of Jesus Christ
  • To keep God’s commandments and progress toward higher covenants
  • To help, serve, bear with, and bless our fellow men
  • To live worthy of the companionship of the Gift of the Holy Ghost

We promise to do all these things in exchange for one major promised blessing: that His Spirit may always be with us (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79; Mosiah 18:8-10).

It may seem like a lot of effort for one primary accompanying gift. But, OH what a gift it is.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost is the baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11), which Christ, Himself, said was prerequisite to entering His kingdom (John 3:5). The Gift of the Holy Ghost is the gift of eventual sanctification, perfection, and holiness akin to that of Christ. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is about being in constant communication with the Almighty as He tells us what we need to do to become like Him and inherit and share all that He has and His glory.

QUESTION: So, how do we get this constant 24/7 communication and instruction from the Holy Spirit that will help us in our goal to become godly?

ANSWER: We place ourselves in places and circumstances that allow us to get the spiritual reception we need so that the Holy Ghost can deliver His heavenly correspondence.

That’s it, huh? Yep. Think about. How hard is it to make/get a phone call or a send/receive a text message with only one bar? How difficult is it to upload or download files with a spotty Wi-fi connection? And these are just worldly metaphors. When it comes to divine communication, the strength of our connection and service provider makes all the difference.human hand using smartphone on white background

If you want to know why it makes a difference whether you go to church or not, you need only ask yourself the following type of questions:

What happens when I go to church that enables me to get messages from the Holy Ghost that I may not be able to get while sitting at home?

What happens when I accept a calling at church and fulfill it that doesn’t happen when I’m merely a spectator?

Church is one of the places we can increase our number of spiritual service bars or strengthen our spiritual Wi-fi connection.

If you want to know why it makes a difference to read your scriptures, you need only ask yourself the following type of questions:

What happens when I read God’s word that enables me to get messages from the Holy Ghost that I may not be able to get by reading other things?

What happens when I study the scriptures looking for answers to a problem that doesn’t happen when I merely sit on my couch and complain that I have a problem?

The shear act of exerting mental and physical effort toward something increases the strength of our spiritual connection.

If you want to know why it makes a difference to pray even though God already knows your thoughts, feelings, and future, you need only ask yourself the following:

What happens in my mind when I get on my knees and talk to God?

What happens to my logic and reasoning as I try to seek God’s help or explain my troubles to Him?

What happens when I confess my sins to God and ask for Him to forgive me that doesn’t happen when I don’t consciously approach Him?

Now, it’s possible to pray with vain repetitions and not do much to change our spiritual reception. That is akin to uploading your files but not downloading the response. It’s also quite possible to pray and ask God what decision to make and yet be unwilling to accept His answer. In these cases, we may be trying to get a message, but we keep failing to receive it based on our lack of humility and submission to His actual answer. God doesn’t send messages we are not prepared for. Hence, the need for us to do the things He requires so that we are willing and prepared.

Every commandment we have, no matter how small or simple it seems, has the ability (as we keep it) to open our minds and hearts up to communication from the Holy Ghost. When we open up our hearts and minds, the Holy Ghost can tell us the next step we need to take to inherit eternal life. He can tell us what we’re doing right, where we’re close but need to refocus, and what we need to improve upon, change, or forsake. He can help us to forgive. He can grant us peace while we persevere through a trial. He can open our eyes to the struggles of others so that we can help them. Every message we get from Him we get by placing ourselves in circumstances where our thoughts and actions will best open us up to God’s guidance.

By communicating with God, and especially by receiving His messages, we come to know Him! It is the only way to do so. Yet, many Christians (and that includes those who claim to be Mormons) today are happy to settle for a one-sided relationship with God, and only when it suits their needs. Indeed, modern views of God and His commandments are preached by those who are the worst kind of follower—fair weather friends—who abandon God anytime loyalty requires sacrifice, struggle, patience, long-suffering, charity, or effort.

In Alma 37:6 we read:

Mobile Phone Signal Search

And now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

God’s simple requests and commands to get spiritual reception baffle even the most devout when they fail to understand their incredible and necessary purpose—to create opportunities for us to receive heavenly communication and develop a relationship with God.

A person can’t truly claim to have a relationship with God if they don’t try to communicate with Him (especially receiving communication from Him) in even small ways. Showing up for twice a year holidays is not a relationship. As well, if they keep a selective list of commandments and agree with only some beliefs then they are not the religion they call themselves by, they are their own religion and have created their own god (Doctrine and Covenants 1:16). We can claim to be Christian, but if we don’t attempt to at least emulate Christ and “keep His commandments,” than we aren’t truly His (John 14:15). If we claim to be Mormon and yet make no attempt to become godly and enter into the strait and narrow path that allows us to inherit His glory (Doctrine and Covenants 132:21-25), then we are not keeping our baptismal covenants (priesthood covenants, or temple covenants). We are of those who say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name done many wonderful works” (Matthew 7:22)? God’s answer to this minimal or partial conversion to His plan was this (Matthew 7:2123):

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven… And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

This is also reminiscent of the parable of the ten virgins. Remember the ten virgins were likened unto the Kingdom of God, which is His church (or those who claim to be of His church). The five foolish virgins were rejected because Christ knew them not, meaning also that those foolish virgins didn’t know Him, either (Matthew 25:1-12).

If we don’t live our lives so that we can receive correspondence from the Almighty, how can we say we love Him? We don’t even know Him! It’s like having a thousand celestial text messages sitting out in the limbo of cell phone towers waiting for us to put ourselves in places where we get service. And then, we can still only get one message at a time and respond to it before the next one will come. Meaning, that occasional moments of reception a few times a week simply isn’t going to cut it.

In Mosiah 5:13 it says:

For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?

For this is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent (John 17:3).

To know God is to know His voice, which we can’t know if we purposefully choose to avoid receiving messages from that voice. If we truly love Him we will keep His commandments and follow Him (John 10:14-16). For, the things that He has done we are commanded also to do (3 Nephi 27:21-22).

So, maybe you pray, but you don’t attend church and you knowingly break commandments. Failed connection. You’re missing tons of messages. So, maybe you attend church, but you don’t read or study your scriptures. Failed connection. You’re still missing many messages. So, maybe you attend church but you refuse to accept a calling. Failed connection. I could go on and on with temple attendance and many other things God has asked us to do; and most of them are small and simple things. If you are ignoring one or many of these things, you’re still missing messages. In fact, you are spurning them because of your pride. And, the longer you go without good spiritual reception (on a consistent, constant basis) the longer it will take you to truly come to know God and to understand the path He wishes you to take in order to inherit His glory and to become like Him.

God is the one who established the spiritual reception guidelines (i.e.commands). They include daily prayers with real intent, daily scripture study, daily service to our fellow men, keeping the Sabbath Day holy, attending the temple, and NOT doing many things. He gave us those commandments so that we could get to know Him, correspond with Him, and become like Him. And He gave us those commandments, which if we keep, we will have constant, 24/7 guidance and help from Him. That’s what we covenant to do when we are baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Most of us rarely miss a text message or social media post from mere acquaintances. Indeed, we can hardly set down our electronic devices for fear of missing one of those cursory messages. How sad, then, that we do not treat messages from God with at least the same urgency because we don’t want to do what it takes to “get spiritual reception.”

BT

Doctrine: The Holy Ghost is a gift, not an entitlement. God purposefully requires diligent and consistent effort in order to access increasing guidance from the Holy Ghost. There are 4 simple steps to coming to better recognize guidance from the Holy Ghost. There are lots of different possibilities and ways the Holy Ghost may try to communicate with you.

Note: This blog post is directed specifically at recognizing promptings from “the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” For a commentary on the difference between the Light of Christ, the Power of the Holy Ghost, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost, please click here to visit a previous blog.

While all of us may have some experiences and memories of times when we have received clear impressions and instructions from the Holy Ghost, it is rarely an ability that we master without time and significant, consistent effort. In fact, sometimes it seems that God gives us Holy Ghost nibbles and snacks and then makes it difficult to get the rest of the banquet. And, in my opinion, this is exactly what He does and for good reason.

The Holy Ghost is a Gift, not an Entitlement

Unlike any other gift that God gives us, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is the one gift that is essential to our eternal salvation and exaltation. The Holy Ghost is the baptism of fire. He is the Master Teacher. He is the one who, because of the Atonement, can take our righteous desires plus our imperfect actions and effect real and permanent changes in our very souls. This makes the Holy Ghost the great Sanctifier. Even with the Atonement of Christ, without the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we cannot become like God nor even aspire to.

A gift like this God WILL protect. It is not for the passive Christian or the doubting Thomas’s. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is also not a gift with only one educational certificate that you can master by attending church a few times. There aren’t only a couple levels of personal revelation. Just as a person must participate in a basic course of education to become a doctor in any philosophy or profession (whether they are brilliant enough to skip grades and/or CLEP out of college courses), so also, recognizing the Gift of the Holy Ghost has nearly unlimited steps and degrees that must be pursued one at a time and with diligent, consistent faith and effort.

Christ was the most intelligent of us all. Yet, He humbled Himself to progress according to God’s will. He received grace by grace until He received a fullness (Doctrine and Covenants 93:13). He was perfect and yet He still was baptized, and so forth, to “fulfill all righteousness,” and to do His Father’s will (St. John 6:38), not His own. And, He didn’t make a fuss over having to do it. So, if we think we are too smart, or righteous enough at present, to submit to a path of hard work, humility, and diligence, then God will not force us to do so, nor will He lightly part with His guidance. We can demand that He give us proof and guidance in “our own way” and we will get exactly what we want (Alma 29:4)…to our own condemnation (Doctrine and Covenants 63:7-12).

The more Christlike we become, the greater our ability to recognize God’s promptings and guidance through the Gift of the Holy Ghost. And, though a doctor may spend up to 18 years or more reaching his/her desired level of understanding and education in a specific field, it would be very unwise to assume that the level and degree of promptings you can receive from the Holy Ghost ends as quickly time-wise and can be achieved with even a third of the effort.

So, if you’re looking for a quick answer, this blog cannot offer you a blanket set of ideals which will solve your struggles. At best, it will prescribe a course of “spiritual education and effort,” that, IF pursued will lead you along a path to your desired goal. It’s a prescription for years of hard work, study, hope, faith, and practice (St. John 7:17; 17:3). The prescription is simple and will follow below.

So, how bad to you want it?

Hands opening a red gift box with ribbon in shadow
hands opening a red gift box with gold ribbon in shadow. Horizontal composition. Top view.

God Purposefully Requires Diligent and Consistent Effort in order to Access to Increasing Guidance from the Holy Ghost

Why does God make it so hard to recognize the guidance of the Holy Ghost? Is it some game to Him? Doesn’t He realize we are trying to do His will?

God doesn’t give guidance to those who don’t want it, don’t appreciate it, are skeptical of it, and don’t plan to follow it. He will invite you to seek His guidance, but He won’t give it lightly, “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33).

As well, God says (Alma 12:9-10):

It is given to many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they [the mysteries] are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of the word…according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. (See also Doctrine and Covenants 50:24)

The Gift of the Holy Ghost is just that—a gift. It is intended to be given to us in increasing amounts as we use it for its designed purpose: to grow, learn, become more Christlike, more humble, more faithful, more loving…more like God. So, if we get into a “I’m good like I am,” rut, then we may begin to struggle to receive continued guidance beyond the current level we have received to date. This is because the guidance is meant to lead us upward, not to keep us on the same plane we’ve camped on. We can’t be complacent or satisfied with a minimal, or even what we consider a high, level of righteousness.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost isn’t something we can use when it’s convenient. We can’t go crying to the Lord for help and then expect guidance to come if we haven’t been actively seeking His will to improve over time. Or, if we only seek guidance from the Holy Ghost for what we consider big decisions and ignore the little promptings about things He would have us improve on, change, forsake, or repent of, then we may find the Heavens silent, or at least a little slow in responding.

You may ask, “Well, even if I have been a little reluctant or complacent, when I go to God at last, you think He’d answer, right?” “He wants me back, right?” Well, while God loves us unconditionally, His love is true love—tough love. The kind none of us particularly like. But, the kind we actually need. Sure, He wants us back. But, it is also His work and glory to help us become as much like Him as possible (Moses 1:39). So, if withholding answers and guidance for a moment will lead us to re-evaluate our lives and become better; then God will likely withhold and give us a chance to desire, more deeply, such a priceless gift as the Holy Ghost. He will wait until we desire it so much that we are willing to come closer to Him and further away from our own will. He does this so that when He does answer we are humble and willing to follow His counsel. So that we have a greater chance of not taking it for granted.

Why doesn’t He let you make that decision? Why doesn’t He give without using tough love to help you improve? Because, “for he who sins against the greater light receives the greater condemnation” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:3). If God gives miracles and guidance and blessings when we are not willing to accept them or follow them, then our condemnation for not accepting or following is greater. In other words, the more you receive the more eternal trouble you can get for deciding not to accept that which is given to you. It would be unfair for God to punish us for not accepting light and truth if we weren’t prepared to receive or follow it. By withholding He is showing mercy.

The Prescription for Better Recognizing the Guidance of the Holy Ghost

President Monson, who seems to have a particular gift for recognizing the promptings of the Holy Ghost, gave these simple steps in several recent conference addresses (see endnotes for sources):

  1. Communicate daily with Heavenly Father in sincere prayer. God has commanded, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63).
  2. Be worthy to receive inspiration. God has said, “…seek me diligently…” (ibid)
  3. Trust inspiration when it comes. (Proverbs 3:5)
  4. Follow inspiration when it comes.

So, that’s it. I might surmise that if you are having trouble getting the guidance you desire to receive, then you might try to: 1) pray more often and more sincerely, 2) become more worthy and seek God’s will more diligently, 3) be more trusting when inspiration comes, 4) follow more willingly and more quickly when inspiration does come.

Different Ways of Feeling or Receiving Promptings and Guidance

Now, if you’ve made it this far, then what I’d like to do is to talk a little bit about the different ways the Holy Ghost talks to and guides me. This won’t mean that He’ll talk to you the same way. But, by seeing how He talks to me in different situations, it might help you better ponder the possibilities for yourself. That’s all I can offer. The rest is up to you.

Reading the Scriptures

When I’m reading the scriptures and the Holy Ghost wants me to take note of something, I generally find that the verse subtly zooms out at me a bit and gives me pause making me want to reread it. Sometimes, that won’t happen, but I’ll read past the verse and then my mind will catch a certain word or phrase as a trigger and it takes me back to the verse. Then, on the second read it will often give me pause and I will see a direct correlation between a few words or a phrase in the verse and something in my life.

I don’t always feel a big weight or burning in my chest when this happens. But, often, when I reread the verse several times and ponder why it is giving me pause, thoughts will come to me or aspects of my life that seem to tie to these words or phrases. Then, there is another step, if I’m willing to take it. As I think about how I can apply these words or phrases to my life situation, when one of the things I think about and consider is right, then, I will often feel a strong mental weight on that action or idea. Often I’ll feel it is something I need to do now, or soon. Once the idea has been pressed upon me, it is not easily forgotten, and will continue to come to my mind as something that needs to be done—until I do it. If I ignore it long enough, it will go away, but I try not to do that.latter-day_saint_scripture_quadruple_combination

Other times, when reading my scriptures, I come across something that means something different to me than it did before. This is not a pillar-of-light kind of experience. But, it is enlightening. Usually, I review cross-references on the phrases that have a new meaning to me and find my mind carried away into aspects of a principle or truth I have never considered before. It’s a pleasant journey. It uplifts me. It’s exciting to learn something new. Then, if I continue to ponder how to apply it in my life (which is yet another step required), I will find ideas and inspiration coming to me. Not always in the moment. Sometimes it will come the next day, or days later. However, often, if I do not record these impressions, they are lost by the next day. Sometimes I can be reminded of them by revisiting the verses, but sometimes not. Then, I find that the more I record these types of minimal impressions, the more frequent they become and the new and deeper truths and doctrines I uncover.

These are two of the ways that the Spirit works with me when I’m studying my scriptures. It may be different for others. But, I can recognize when these moments come. And, they don’t come when I just read “to read.” They only come when I’m putting forth sincere effort.

Making Life Decisions

Learning to recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost in life decisions is not an easy task. I believe that the level of study and effort required to access this personal understanding says something about how sacred it is. Things given to us without effort and hard work are nearly always taken for granted, misused, exploited, wasted, etc. Not everyone who wins the lottery blows all the money and ends up in more debt than before winning, but the percentage who do is considerable.

I know some people who seem to get promptings for their life as easily as going to the faucet with a cup for water. However, I am NOT one of those people. I find generally, that the Lord lets me bump into walls and bounce about until I make my way down the path He intends for me. I often run spiritual marathons before finding a drop of water on a leaf that hasn’t dried up from a recent rain. So, I’m not about to tell anyone anything that will lead them to believe it’s easy to get promptings. However, I do know, after much bumping and running, how the Spirit speaks to me. And, at least for me, He always does.

When it comes to decisions, I am usually already trying consistently to keep the commandments, live worthy of the Spirit, and seek the Lord’s will. Because of this, I make my pros and cons lists. I study it out in my mind. I ask all the suggested questions, like: “Will this choice help me serve the Lord better? Will this move, or this job change, help me and my family come closer together and to the Lord? Etc.” Then, instead of asking the Lord to tell me which decision to make based on my research, I have learned, that for me, the Lord expects me to make a decision first and start moving toward it. Only then does the Holy Ghost exert influence upon me in the form of validation or an icky feeling that makes me feel uncomfortable with my choice.

Many people often overlook the “studying it out.” But, even more forget to “make a decision” before asking “if it be right”(Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9). And, for me, I have to actually exert effort and time into pursuing a decision before the feelings of “yes this is good,” or “no, don’t do this,” comes.

Many people take the words from Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9 so literally, that if they don’t get an immediate “burning in the bosom,” while they are still on their knees in prayer, they get confused. Yet others take the words “stupor of thought” to mean that while they are on their knees in prayer they will completely forget what they were praying about. I don’t know if this actually happens to some people. If it does, then lucky they are. However, for me, the confirmation or stupor of thought happen a bit differently.

All of us are familiar with small magnets. If you put two of the same poles together they push away from each other. If they are small, you can exert sufficient force to hold them together, but the moment you stop exerting force, they push apart naturally. On the other hand, if you put two opposing poles near each other they pull together without any extra exertion from you.Red and Blue Horseshoe Magnet Isolated on White Background

This magnet example is how most (though not all) of my life decisions come to me. If it is a good thing or even the best choice, it just “sits right.” This doesn’t mean there aren’t ever any external barriers, but as far as my mind, logic and heart are concerned, the idea makes sense and attracts me to it. On the other hand, things that are not wise choices, or that are not the best choice God would have me make; while they might sound nice or seem logical, they simply don’t “sit well.” I have to sort of force the idea on myself since it sounds so nice. But, I’m never comfortable with it. And, if I stop trying to make myself consider this unwise or not best choice, I do sort of stop thinking about it. It falls to the side and becomes unimportant or pales in comparison to another option or idea that arises. This is my particular kind of “stupor of thought.”

Now, some life decisions I have felt a big “no” or “yes” on. But, they are not common for me and I can remember all of them. So, sometimes I have received a more significant “burning in the bosom” or a weight of impression that is unmistakable. But, I can also say, that the better I get at recognizing the magnet-promptings, the more clear and understandable all of my promptings are becoming. But, I’m nearly 40 and I’ve been working at this since I got a testimony of the gospel at age 14. So, 26 years of practice.

Being Inspired at Church

If I am making an earnest attempt to pay attention and participate at church, I find that it’s not really the lesson, or talk, itself that impacts me. But, often, a certain phrase spoken a certain way, or an experience someone shares, or some small piece of what they do or ask triggers an idea or memory in my mind and heart. The idea or memory that comes past that trigger is often unrelated to the general topic being taught or spoken on, though not always. This is often how I know it’s a prompting.

Now, when I say “unrelated” I mean that it is unlikely that I would ever have made the connection between this phrase from the talk/lesson and a certain idea or memory on my own. It’s not impossible. So, I suppose it could be justified away. But, it’s happened so many times in my life that either I’m stupendously brilliant in ways other people are not, OR, the Holy Ghost is bringing these ideas and memories to my remembrance (St. John 14:26).

Preparing a Lesson

As I have noted in my blog entry “Teaching BY the Spirit or Some Other Way,” the Holy Ghost works somewhat differently in the teaching environment. Teaching is a different situation than basic personal revelation. It’s different than just having the Holy Ghost with you. It’s even different than getting up to bear your testimony. Why? Because you are not doing it for yourself. You are acting as an instrument through which the Holy Ghost can work to accomplish His task as the Master Teacher to both you AND those whom you are called to teach.

If you want to understand how the Holy Ghost works in teaching, then I refer you to that blog entry.

Conclusion

Now, there are lots of different aspects of life and for each of us the Holy Ghost will work with us differently based on our personalities, emotional/psychological state, talents, and spiritual gifts. I don’t have the knowledge or the ability to tell each of you how to figure out how the Holy Ghost works for you. That’s your job and His job.

So, that’s it. If you really want to get better at recognizing the Spirit, then you’ve got to work at it using the steps given by President Monson. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the most valuable gift you will ever receive in this life. Thus, it’s the most difficult gift to make use of. It transcends all money, possessions, intellect, fame, glory, etc. The Holy Ghost is the second baptism, the baptism of fire. If you do not seek His guidance, if you do not allow Him to sanctify you through diligently seeking to follow His promptings, then what remains to you? There’s either “you + a member of the godhead,” or “just you.”

I don’t know about the rest of you. You are free to feel and think as you wish. But, for me, I have found this gift of guidance from the Holy Ghost to be worth all of my efforts—through times of doubt, times of trial, and times of peace. I know, for myself, that the Holy Ghost is real. And, I can confidently promise any who read this that if you follow the simple steps above, and exercise hope and faith, that in time you will come to recognize the promptings and guidance of the Holy Ghost well enough to live your life well, and with confidence in the Lord.

BT

End Notes

Thomas S. Monson, “Consider the Blessings,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 86-69.

Thomas S. Monson, “Stand in Holy Places,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 82-86.

Thomas S. Monson, “Tabernacle Memories,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 41-42.