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.

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

Doctrines: There is no vicarious road to replace the individual effort required to ponder, study, reason, and receive individual answers and witnesses from God through the Holy Ghost. If we let others ponder for us we are likely to end up converted to, and preaching, their version of the gospel, instead of God’s version… And their version cannot spiritually sustain us nor lead us to Christ.

I’d like to start this blog with some quotes from one of my favorite books, The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. By themselves these quotes contain true doctrines with many possible applications to this discussion.

“Expectations is the place you go to before you get to where you’re going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations, but my job is to hurry them along whether they like it or not.”

___

“Help you! You must help yourself,” [Tock the watch dog] replied, carefully winding himself with his left leg. “I suppose you know why you got stuck.”

“I guess I wasn’t thinking,” said Milo.

“PRECISELY,” shouted the dog as his alarm went off again. “Now you know what you must do.”

“I’m afraid I don’t,” admitted Milo, feeling quite stupid.

“Well,” continued the watchdog impatiently, “since you got here by not thinking, it seems reasonable to expect, that in order to get out, you must start thinking,” And with that he hopped into the car.

___

“Now will you tell me where we are?” asked Tock as he looked around the desolate island.

“To be sure,” said Canby; “you’re on the Island of Conclusions. Make yourself at home. You’re apt to be here for some time.”

“But how did we get here?” asked Milo, who was still a bit puzzled by being there at all.

“You jumped, of course,” explained Canby. “That’s the way most everyone gets here. It’s really quite simple: every time you decide something without having a good reason, you jump to Conclusions whether you like it or not. It’s such an easy trip to make that I’ve been here hundreds of times.”

“But this is such an unpleasant-looking place,” Milo remarked.

“Yes, that’s true,” admitted Canby; “it does look much better from a distance.”

“Well, I’m going to jump right back,” announced the Humbug, who took two or three practice bends, leaped as far as he could, and landed in a heap two feet away.

“That won’t do at all,” scolded Canby, helping him to his feet. “You can never jump away from Conclusions. Getting back is not so easy. That’s why we’re so terribly crowded here…. The only way back is to swim, and that’s a very long and a very hard way.”

I suppose the first question is, “What is IL-PONDERING?” Well, turns out the word ponder doesn’t have any very good antonyms, or at least not that I liked. They all are basically “not thinking,” but I think il-pondering is far more about thinking you are pondering, when really you are not.

The prefix IL means: not, opposite of, without

So the perils of il-pondering are that you are actually not pondering (though you may think you are), or that you are doing the opposite of pondering which is letting others think for you; or perhaps you ponder but invalidate the process for many various reasons.

Question

So, before we can discuss how il-pondering happens, let’s talk about how to ponder.

The following steps have been compiled from a combination of four scripture references: Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3, 9:7-9; Joseph Smith-History 1:8-13; 2 Nephi 32:1-7.

HOW TO PONDER

  1. Set aside your self-imposed, limited expectations for what God’s answer and guidance will be and open yourself up to consider not what you expect to learn, but what God has for you to learn and understand.
  2. Establish a firm, doctrinally-based question upon which you intend to act (For help with this concept see blog post Getting Answers to Prayers: EXPEDIENCY). God can tell you anything, but He’s much more likely to reveal those things to you which pertain to “you” and which will help “you” become more like Him.
  3. Pray for guidance and then while you are waiting for it, study, research, and reason. Then, pray again for understanding and to sort through the knowledge you’ve gleaned.
  4. Live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost and invite Him to testify and guide you by being an active learner. You can do this by accessing those resources God has commanded us to use to get His answers: prophetic guidance, scripture study, prayer, and other appropriate and positive influences within our lives.
  5. When you receive advice from others, get the advice confirmed by the Holy Ghost who will tell you in BOTH your mind and your hearts, if the advice is God’s will for you.

So, how do we il-ponder? Il-pondering is skipping, reversing, ignoring, skewing, or slothfully completing any of the above steps. But, here are some statements that may help.

Il-pondering will happen when we limit our perspective for learning and receiving answers from God to our own limited and finite expectations. We think we can imagine what God will say, but we can’t (Isaiah 55:8-9). So, if we try to put God in our box (which can’t be done), then we will sit inside that tiny box, all alone—or with others who have climbed in—and never get the knowledge we need.

Many times we il-ponder when we focus on superficial questions to which God has an answer, but because of the lack of eternal importance of the answer, or our inability to comprehend the infinite expanse of the answer, we cannot receive it. For example: it’s not that understanding how the dinosaurs and Cro-Magnon man play into the creation of Adam and Eve aren’t interesting, but the reality is that the answer won’t affect our ability to keep God’s commandments and become like Him. We can do that without knowing those things. Plus, the answer would probably be beyond our ability to grasp.

We also il-ponder when our intense or excessive emotions of disappointment, anger, resentment, vengeance, passion, and even dumfounded-confusion drive our search. This is because what we are looking for is an immediate fix for our emotional discomfort and not the ultimate truth—which is often not immediately comfortable.

Il-pondering can happen, and frequently does, when we allow others to do our pondering for us. This happens when we set out to research an issue, problem, question, or even a doubt. In our impatience and haste, we find that other people (frequently on the Internet) have already done some. Then, we sit down comfortably and listen to their pondering, eat their narrative meal, accept their biased viewpoint (which certainly sounds as if they are trying to be unbiased and fair), and completely ingest their answers. This meal is especially appetizing if it agrees with our emotional feelings or uneducated conclusions. We jump to their conclusions, never having fully pondered our own. When this happens, I know of few who actually take the time to take the easily ingested pondering (done by others) and vet it through an inquiry to the Lord. They simply think they’ve found the answer and then stop. They put up an umbrella over their heads, blocking the further light and knowledge raining down that they would have found.

We il-ponder when we jump to our own conclusions before having all the information (and since when did anyone have all the information, except God?). We are so prideful and selfishly convinced of our own intelligent conclusion based on minimal evidence that we harden our hearts and become incapable of receiving any other information. Messages from the Holy Ghost bounce off of our armor because we’ve decided to only soften for certain kinds of information.

We il-ponder when we study minimally, research at a glance, reason only our limited viewpoint, and fail to pray before and after for inspiration, help, and guidance.

We il-ponder when we ask God for an answer and then turn to sources He has not instituted for His answer. We turn to men for guidance instead of God’s words and ordained mouthpieces (Doctrine and Covenants 1:37-38).

We il-ponder when we accept the counsel and guidance of others, in our lives, without vetting their guidance with our Father in Heaven. No matter how wise and wonderful advice may seem; no matter how educated or experienced another is; none is more wise and educated and experienced than God. If we get good advice and He wants us to follow it, He will tell us IF we seek His opinion.

Relaxe

In the scriptures we see many people deceived by il-pondering.

Laman and Lemuel often sought explanations from Nephi. Nephi always preached true doctrine to them. So, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that Laman and Lemuel never went to the Lord to get it verified. They never got their own witness.

The Zoramites were notorious for not pondering for themselves. They turned to others (Alma and his sons) for information. Alma 32 is an entire chapter in The Book of Mormon of Alma counseling the Zoramites to ponder! Try it out, plant the seed and see what happens! Alma taught.

Alma’s son, Corianton, succumbed to temptation because he struggled with a few critical gospel doctrines. His emotions got in his way of taking the time to ponder and get the truth. His father finally set him straight, but Corianton still had to gain his own witness.

Alma the Younger was an il-ponderer until his soul was at stake. Then, as he was “racked with torment” and “harrowed up by the memory of [his] sins” he remembered his father taught about “one, Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 36:17). In his internal pondering he sifted through all that he had ever heard and found hope and a testimony in Jesus Christ.

An angry, glory-seeking, money-seeking Zeezrom tormented Alma and Amulek with his cursory knowledge of the gospel. He tried to cross them in their words. When they were inspired by the Holy Ghost to put Zeezrom in his place, he too was tormented until he pondered what they had actually taught about Jesus Christ (Alma 11 & 15).

The Pharisees were the blind guides upon whom so many were so often deceived. They spent years establishing the Oral Law and making it more important than The Law. Then, with their education and wealth, they set themselves up as examples to follow. When Christ came, these Pharisees were unable to let go of their expectations of the Christ they had failed to truly study about and prepare for. They did not know Him, or His gospel, they only knew their version of Christ and His gospel…so they could not recognize Him! The Pharisees were also accused by Jesus Christ of being blind guides and making converts to “their version of Christ’s religion” twofold more the children of hell than they, themselves, were (Matthew 23:15).

If we continually submit to others’ versions of truth, to others’ pondering, and not doing our own, we are allowing ourselves to be led by “blind guides” and we have no personal promptings or spiritual witnesses to fall back on. And, if we are not careful, we will become their converts and not Christ’s, we will preach their gospel and not Christ’s, and we will become twofold more the children of hell, than those whom we originally followed.

We cannot receive personal revelation and guidance from God if we let others do the asking, studying, and pondering for us. If we think God is not answering us, that His promises are not being fulfilled, it may be because we are not anxiously engaged in getting our own answers from Him (Doctrine & Covenants -58:26-33).

2 Nephi 32:1-7 says:

And now, behold, my beloved brethren, I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way. But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts?

Do ye not remember that I said unto that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?

Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.

For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ

And now, I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be.

I am one of those people that is inherently untrusting of others’ opinions, and even more so of their facts. If someone cites a reference in their essay, research paper, blog, or other post, I usually look it up. And, I’m never shocked (no, never shocked) to find out that they’ve skewed the idea, misunderstood the point, misquoted the facts, failed to read the whole reference themselves, and “jumped to conclusions” about its interpretation. Often they steal ideas because they don’t have their own!

Some of those who preach the most vehemently about negative or accusational religious topics are often il-ponderers themselves. Yet, people eat it up for the il-pondering reasons above. And, the only way for you and I to know the difference is to research their words, check their references, compare it with teachings in the scriptures, compare it with the words and teachings of living prophets and apostles, and vet their negative and accusational declarations through prayer and a witness from the Holy Spirit.

When I cite references in this blog, I fully expect (and hope) that you (my readers) will look them up. Why? Because if you read them, for yourself, the Spirit will be able to teach you far more than my little blog could ever do. If you read the references yourselves and ponder the right questions, the Holy Ghost will do wonderful things with your minds, hearts, and your lives.

So, hopefully, if you’re reading this and you’ve been an il-ponderer, you will get moving again by thinking on your own and seeking your own witness. Or, perhaps you will swim back from the Island of Conclusions—even though it’s a long swim. Or, hopefully, you will finally get past Expectations and to the destination that God intends for you.

BT

Doctrine: When we follow promptings to covenant with God and to become more deeply committed—to turn our life and will over to Him—we must expect a time of demolition and change before the promised blessings and new construction. Anything that entices us to love God, serve God, and become more like Christ, is sent from God. Before God can put us on the path to our ultimate happiness, He has to remove the barriers we’ve put in the way.

Consider the following scenarios:

A. Jill meets the missionaries, takes the discussions, enjoys marvelous spiritual experiences, and gets baptized (enters into a new/deeper covenant with God). Jill is excited to have found the truth. But, very soon after getting baptized, several family members shun her for her new religion. She has also newly committed not to work on Sunday and her current job is unwilling to support her new beliefs. She gets laid off. As well, a few members in her new ward seem to be openly judgmental about her Sunday attire. To Jill, it suddenly seems that she is getting punished, in multiple ways, for her choice to join the church. She now doubts whether she should have joined at all.

B. Joseph is a long-time member of the church. But, recently, he has been inspired to make some deeper commitments and promises to the Lord. After doing so, his current marriage begins to fall apart. The more he tries to keep his deeper commitments to the Lord, the worse his marriage relationship becomes. His wife seems to resent his increasing efforts to become more godly. Joseph knows he has been inspired by God to make these deeper commitments. But, now, it seems as if he is getting to a point where his wife may leave him. Does he have to choose between his wife and God? He is beginning to doubt whether or not the Lord would rather he keep these deeper commitments if it means his marriage will end.

These two scenarios have several things common:

  • The person makes a new covenant with God, renews their covenant with God, or deepens their commitment to their current covenants with God.
  • The person experiences a negative effect, or aftermath, directly related to their new/increased covenant/commitment with God.
  • Because of the directly related aftermath, the person doubts their promptings, actions, or past spiritual feelings/experience.

Often when we are guided, or inspired, to make deeper commitments to the Lord—and we follow those inspirations—things in our life begin to change. These changes do not always seem to be for the better—at least not initially. And, because these changes are often initially negative, we may incorrectly judge this negative aftermath as a sign that what we have done is either unwise, wrong, or perhaps not from the Lord after all.

When we judge such aftermath negatively, we do so because we are afraid and confused. As we ponder our impressions and feelings, we can remember feeling strongly that we were guided to act. But, now, with so much backlash, lack of support, and other confusing happenings, we second guess our spiritual experiences, testimony, and faith. It is hard for us to imagine that God would lead us in a direction that would seem to rob us of what we thought was already good in our lives.

In Moroni 7:16-17 we learn that anything that entices us to love God, serve God, and become more like Christ, is sent from God. Yet, we still have this juxtaposition of spiritual experience with negative aftermath.

Isn’t God bound to bless us when we do what He says (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10)? So, if we are inspired to make covenants and deeper commitments, by the Lord, why does everything appear to go south afterward?

I call it “The Reconstruction Process.” God is the supreme remodeler. Why a remodeler instead of a modeler? Well, because we have free will (agency). God will not force us to live our lives in the way that will bring us ultimate peace and joy. However, when we make covenants and commitments with God, we are, in effect, turning our lives over to Him. We are giving Him our free will and agreeing to do with it as He commands. We are handing Him the reigns to our life.Backyard Deck Reconstruction

It is in this moment when we turn our lives over to God that the remodeling and reconstruction process begins. Before God can put us on the path to our ultimate happiness, He has to remove the barriers we’ve put in the way. Before God can build us a mansion in the celestial kingdom, He has to tear down the two-bedroom ranch we’ve constructed in a lower level of glory. There are no spiritual vacation homes.

In fact, no matter what level of righteousness we are currently at, the moment we commit more deeply to God and strive to improve, the reconstruction process begins. This reconstruction process often includes removing or changing certain aspects of our lives that we are currently comfortable with. It may include removing something that we think is good, or even great. And, so we get discouraged and misunderstand what is happening.

Hydraulic crusher excavator backoe machinery working on site

I remember very clearly the day I had the courage to get on my knees and sincerely say—with a bit of fear—to the Lord, “What is it that you want for me? I’m willing to follow the path you’ve designed and I’m ready to let go of the one that I’ve been clinging to. My life is in your hands. Make of it what you will.”

What was the aftermath?  I lost the brand new home my spouse and I had only recently bought. I continued to fail to get pregnant and have a child. I had to give up my job to move across the country. I had to live without a home of my own for two years. Then, my marriage crumbled to the ground no matter what I did to save it. Then, I had to quit yet another job where I was earning more than I had ever earned. Then, I had to move back in with my parents for 5+ years. During this time, despite my many qualifications and connections, I couldn’t seem to get a decent job. The list went on and on…

It took the Lord 7 years to tear down the life that I had built up; before He could begin to rebuild it. He did it as slowly as He could—so that I was not overcome—but it was still incredibly confusing and painful. I spent many years doubting where my life was supposed to go and what I was supposed to be doing. I often doubted that the Lord had any plans for me at all. But, I decided to be as content as I could with where I was and the circumstances I was frozen in. I did my best to own my situation and count my blessings–and the Lord gave me many even though I felt a bit lost. I had given my life over to the Lord. So, part of me knew that even if I wasn’t settled and content with the current circumstances that I was where the Lord wanted me.

Level and pen on an architects planThen, 7 years after I said, “My life is in your hands,” the Lord began to start the actual new construction. I was finally back to the foundation of my life and God could work with it. I saw the plans begin to form and materialize before my very eyes. What He has done since has been beyond anything I could ever have imagined for myself—and I thought I could imagine a lot. Yet, the Lord has shown me that no matter what I can imagine, He can produce something beyond the reach of it.

Seven years is a long time. I started that 7 years of demolition at the age of 26. The new construction is now 4+ years in progress. What if I had waited until I was 30, or 40, or 50 to submit my will to God’s?

At the age of 26 I was trying do to my best to live God’s commandments and do His will. What if my life had been more deviant? What more might I have had to pass through in order to get to a clean slate where God could build anew?

When we follow promptings to covenant with God and to become more deeply committed, to turn our life and will over to Him, we must expect a time of demolition and change before the promised blessings and new construction. Sure, it’s frightening. We always wonder what will come along if we “let go.” But, though the path is unknown and the process stressful, faith-testing, and often time-consuming; when the actual reconstruction begins and we get glimpses of what the Lord is doing with our lives, we will rejoice in ways we never could have ever dreamed before.Time to rebuild

God is the master of eternal joy. He is the master of healing, and hope. He is the master contractor. He is the master gift-giver and the preeminent lover of our souls. And, after giving our life over to Him we must trust that we can endure the demolition required before the reconstruction begins. Without fail, the more we trust the Lord and the more we covenant with Him and the more we deepen our commitment to those covenants, the more initial struggles and growing pains we will experience as He alters our lives to put us on track for eternal joy—His joy.

So, when these initially negative hours, days, months, and years come in the aftermath of your new, renewed, or deepening covenants and commitments; retain your faith and trust the Lord. For, “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; St. John 14:15).

BT

Doctrine: Like a seed is planted in the darkness of dirt where it can best take root and germinate, so also is true faith sewn/born in darkness. Exercising faith in darkness (or dark times), lighting a mere candle, is what eventually brings us out into the glorious light of Christ. Christ is the light that disperses darkness.

Depression is real. Anxiety is real. Mental disorders and conditions are real. To what extent, to what duration, and to what level we experience these mental and psychological struggles is different for each of us. Some depression and mental disorders are clinical—meaning they are semi-permanent, or permanent. They may come and go, or they may never go at all. Some depression and anxiety is circumstantial based on hurtful life experiences and temporary struggles—and it passes with time.

No matter what extent we suffer any of these issues, they are difficult. And, these are often the times we struggle the most to feel a connection to God. Indeed, we may struggle to feel anything at all. Or, conversely, we may feel so much that connecting spiritually with God is nearly impossible.

Though we may not realize it, strong feelings, of any kind, can be more than a sufficient blocker to feeling the Spirit. But, simply because we can’t feel the Spirit doesn’t mean we are evil or that we have done something wrong. It’s simply difficult to connect when we are in the throes of any kind of extreme emotion; whether it be anger, infatuation, pride, selfishness, exhaustion, despair, intense grief, intense emptiness, and so forth.

Richard G. Scott (April 2012) taught: “…yielding to emotions such as anger or hurt or defensiveness will drive away the Holy Ghost. Those emotions must be eliminated, or our chance for receiving revelation is slight. (Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life)”

C.S. Lewis says in A Grief Observed, that:

You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately; anyway, you can’t get the best out of it. ‘Now! Let’s have a real good talk’ reduces everyone to silence. ‘I must get a good sleep tonight’ ushers in hours of wakefulness. Delicious drinks are wasted on a really ravenous thirst. Is it similarly the very intensity of the longing that draws the iron curtain, that makes us feel we are staring into a vacuum when we think about our dead?

…and so, perhaps, with God. I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: [because] you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.

On the other hand, ‘Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac? And there’s also ‘To him that hath shall be given.’ After all, you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can’t give. Perhaps your own passion temporarily destroys the capacity.

C.S. Lewis goes on to describe grief/depression/despair like both fear and suspense. And, I think depression, anxiety, and other mental struggles often feel similar.

If you are empty, you fear you may never feel again. Then, you experience the suspense of waiting till the moment feeling returns. You may even try to initiate, or take charge of, the return of feeling by resorting to actions that bring on anger, lust, despair, and guilt. I use these because for some reason when we are in such depths we rarely (unless we have trained ourselves) naturally (Mosiah 3:19) resort to those actions that bring on forgiveness, love, hope, and peace. We seem to naturally choose to excite negative feelings. Maybe that’s because those Christ-like actions seem more impossible when one feels nothing at all.

Or, on the other hand, you may feel so much, an excess of emotion, that you fear you may never bet back to normal levels. Then, you experience the suspense of waiting for blessed normalcy and equilibrium in your emotions and feelings to return. You may, again, try to initiate the return of normal feeling by taking unhealthy actions; simply because in this excessive emotional stimulation healthy actions are not natural (Mosiah 3:19) and seem to require heroic effort, while negative ones “seem” to not require as much.

Again, I want to emphasize that having feelings that temporarily block our ability to feel and comprehend God’s hand on our shoulder during these mental struggles does not make us evil. It also doesn’t mean He isn’t there. In fact, He is there, but our ability to tune into that presence is often difficult because we are wearing emotional and psychological sunglasses in an already dark room.

Lest anyone think I don’t know what it feels like to be in any of these throes or to struggle with anxiety, emptiness, excess emotion, or the like; I can only venture to say I have experienced them all in several ways and to extents I have not the room to explain. And, unfortunately, I continue to experience them. However, over years of practice, I have learned how to get out of these “dark ruts.” It is for exactly this reason that when I was asked to blog on this topic that I had sufficient doctrine fodder to present—because I have pondered it extensively.

So, how can we stay spiritual if our mental, emotional, and psychological illnesses are akin to the wall of China between us and our ability to sense the presence, love, guidance, comfort, and Spirit of God in our lives?

I have two answers to this. Both came to me while listening to well-prepared talks at church.

#1

The first came a year or so back. I don’t remember what the talk was, but I had a jolt of insight about light.

So often, when we feel we are sitting in a void unable to reach God or to feel His presence, we are in a metaphorical darkness. Of such darkness, Elder Uchtdorf (April 2014) taught:

Spiritual light rarely comes to those who merely sit in darkness waiting for someone to flip a switch. It takes an act of faith to open our eyes to the Light of Christ. Spiritual light cannot be discerned by carnal eyes. Jesus Christ Himself taught, “I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.

This quote talks about how when we are in darkness, we need to make an effort to feel light. When we are in darkness it is hard for us to comprehend the light that very well may be present. However, Elder Uchtdorf compares it to flicking a switch. Yet, while I was sitting in Sacrament meeting one day, a more applicable illustration came to my mind. Because as we all know, flipping a switch from darkness to light simply isn’t that easy.

So, in my mind, instead of a switch, I saw a candle. When we are in darkness and we light a candle, there is still darkness. The small light, while better than ultimate darkness, still casts shadows creating fearful images and it leaves much of a room, or space, still hidden from us. Yet, we can use that candle to make our way, little by little to the light switch. We navigate with anxiety past certain shadows and dark patches that once we are past we see they aren’t as frightening as we thought. Then, at last we reach the light switch. Because it is the light switch which is able to disperse all the darkness and leave very little, if any, of the room (or God) obscured.

Candle, flame.

So, when we feel that our ability to feel the Spirit and God’s presence in our lives is inhibited by our weaknesses and struggles, we do have to take a leap of faith and light a small candle. We have to reach out to the Lord even though in that moment we feel that He couldn’t be farther from us, that He doesn’t care about our struggles, or that perhaps He doesn’t exist at all. If we can light that small candle and protect it, it will give us sufficient light to creep closer and closer to the light switch. That small candle light—though not sufficient to disperse all fear and darkness—by slow and steady progress, will lead us across the “dark room” of our current struggle to the switch. Then the Light of the World will make Himself known unto us and enable us to continue forward through each and every dark room that follows until one day, all the lights are on: “and I say it unto you that you may know the truth, that you may chase the darkness from among you (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24-25).

Would you like an example of lighting a candle? Well, in my past I had at least 2.5 years of depression, sadness, and hurt that was quite intense at the beginning and then slowly ebbed (going up and down) over the course of those 2.5 years. During that time, I told myself that when I felt down in that dark pit of feeling sorry for myself or of feeling empty and abandoned, that I would text my three visiting teaching sisters. I would say something nice to them and ask how they were.

It was that simple. That was my candle. And, believe it or not, it was extremely difficult to do even that, to strike that match and light a stubborn wick with a shaky hand. But, I always had my phone on me and those numbers were programmed in. So, every time I was down in that pit I texted those ladies. They didn’t know that was why I texted. They never knew. But I knew that thinking about someone other than myself for the 30 seconds it took to text could make a difference.

And, you know what…that candle helped me climb out of the pit—every time. Every time I did it, I would think, “It’s not going to work; not this time.” And, that candle would flicker, but somehow it was always enough. It enabled me to change my course of thoughts, to stand up, to move, to go and do something that brought the light flowing back into my mind and heart.

(See also my blog post Knowledge versus Intelligence on acting on truth even when we don’t “feel” like it)

#2

The second answer, came to me at a recent Stake Conference that I attended. One of the ladies who spoke had me riveted for her entire talk—which I sadly admit doesn’t happen very often. The reason she had me riveted is because she said something that was like pure truth being injected into my head and heart. And yet, it was something so simple I couldn’t believe I hadn’t ever discovered it myself.

This woman had spent years, and I mean literally years upon years, battling a life and death and yet entirely unknown and never before treated brain stem issue/tumor (I believe). She talked about being in constant darkness. She consistently struggled to “tune in.” Yet, there were many times she did feel the Lord’s help, comfort, and guidance despite the fact that He did not remove or easily fix her problem. She entered many experimental surgeries never knowing if she would come out alive. And, even as she spoke to us she wore a unique neck brace and could hardly move her head. So, she wasn’t out of the darkness, completely—not yet.

Then came the injection of truth. She said quite simply that during these dark times, she often felt she lacked faith in God. She struggled to find her faith. She was in “darkness.” Then, she quoted several lines from Alma 32 (the noted chapter on “faith is like a seed”). She said:

It occurred to me one day that when we plant a seed that it goes down into the darkness of the dirt. Then, as it is watered and nurtured, it is still in darkness as it takes root, sprouts and begins to grow. It isn’t until it has been nurtured with great care that it begins to break the surface of the darkness of the dirt and burst forth into the light. So, it would seem that all faith must be born in darkness if it is to grow at all. And it is only when we nurture our faith despite the darkness that it will eventually bring us out into the light.

I remember sitting there, stunned. How had this simple truth about faith totally escaped me?

I mean, I may have experienced such a phenomena, but no one had ever explained why before. No one had ever put it before me so plainly. I wondered how I ever thought true faith came in any other way (Doctrine and Covenants 101:4).

In the parable of the sower, did not seeds that fell upon the soil and remained out in the light get eaten by the birds? Did not the seeds that did not sink down into the dirt and “take root” in darkness fail to properly germinate and thrive? How did I miss this beautiful doctrine all these years?

Light Switch - On

So, my second answer is this: If you feel that you are often, or nearly always in mental, emotional, or psychological darkness, remember that you have the capacity to grow and produce a deeper, stronger faith than many others will ever have. I don’t say this is “on the surface” something to celebrate. But, certainly it is without a doubt a spiritual gift that if grasped will lead you straight to the throne of God.

So, like a seed must be planted underneath the soil to take root and to germinate properly into a plant with the potential to grow up and produce true fruit; so also, must our faith be born in darkness. It must be tried before it can thrive.

But, when we are in these dark moments, we need only light a tiny candle. That candle won’t disperse the darkness immediately. But, it will give us enough light to proceed forward until we can reach the light switch and then be showered with the glorious light of the Master.

BT

Doctrine: God will give us as much light and truth as we are willing to receive in whatever form we are willing to ingest it. Yet, piecemeal doses of truth, while great supplements for entertainment, are no substitute for the actual word of God.

I’m a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. But, my main motivation for writing began by reading fiction.

For me, there is something powerful in fiction. It’s a sneaky way to sort of tell people what you think, what you believe, and who you are in a make-believe world. This make-believe world allows writers of fiction to preach, if you will, without being preachy. They couch truths, political opinions, deep mores, personal standards of living, humor, sin, and culture within worlds that aren’t real. Then, we read the books, step into the worlds, and are slyly influenced as we investigate for entertainment.

Tree growing from the old books over the grass and cityscape bac
Fiction is good for you

Several years back, I fell upon an article which I believe, for myself, holds a great deal of truth. It is called, Fiction Is Good For You and was posted in the online Boston Globe in April 2012 by writer Jonathan Gottschall. What is the article about? Well, it talks about how reading fiction is good for us. Here are some of the benefits that research for the article claims.

  • “…fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction…”
  • “research consistently shows that fiction does mold us.”
  • “Fiction enhances our ability to understand other people; it promotes a deep morality that cuts across religious and political creeds.”
  • “…the most impressive finding is how fiction shapes us: mainly for the better…”
  • History reveals fiction’s ability to change values at the societal level, for better and worse. For example,  Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”
  • Virtually all storytelling, regardless of genre, increases society’s fund of empathy and reinforces an ethic of decency deeper than politics.
  • “Heavy fiction readers outperformed heavy nonfiction readers on tests of empathy.”
  • “…fiction serves the function of making-the-world-a-better-place by improving interpersonal understanding.”
  • Children exposed to a large number of children’s books…had a…stronger ability to read the mental and emotional states of other people.
  • Fiction…is strongly dominated by the theme of poetic justice…goodness is endorsed and rewarded and badness is condemned and punished.
  • “…fiction generally teaches us that it is profitable to be good.”
  • “Traditional tales, from hero epics to sacred myths, perform the essential work of defining group identity and reinforcing cultural values.”

When this article came out, I didn’t think much about fiction being “scripture.” But, recently, as I have pondered the doctrines of grace and God’s mercy and love for His children, a general doctrine appears.

Doctrine: God will give us as much light and truth as we are willing to receive.

So, what if I am not a big Christian? What if I’m not that religious at all? Or, what if I come from a tradition of religious beliefs and I hold true to the big beliefs but nothing else? What if reading from the Bible, Book of Mormon, or any other non-fiction religious text or commentary is well beyond my current desire or capacity?

Book with science fiction scene and open doorway of light

Where then will God find a way to give me truth if I won’t search His words directly?

In Moroni 7:5, 12 and 13, and Alma 5:40, we learn:

  • By their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.
  • That which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
  • Whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.

Anything in the world that is good, that invites and entices us to do good, to love others, to serve others (and by consequence to love and serve God), comes from God. So, I’m NOT saying every fiction book, novella, or novel is completely inspired of God from front to back. But anything good in the books’ themes, plots, character arcs; anything that shows examples of good, humility, self-sacrifice, and other Christlike qualities and commandments—whether the writers intended it or not—comes from God. And, as we read them, take joy in them, and find inspiration and power in them; they then become, in essence, a form of scripture—or how God gets His word through to us. Especially if we’re not inclined to study the real thing.

I find that in most fiction works, the general themes of good versus evil are preserved. They sort of have to be. That is the only real conflict in the eternities. That is the root story. Even if you don’t believe in God, you can admit that minimally, over the course of human history, there is also a theme of tyrants versus the greater good of society. There are holocausts with D-days. There are wars overcome by peace treaties. There are basic, over-arching human themes of good versus evil. There is always someone or something trying to take away human free will, human life, individuality, creativity, and even human dignity.

So, if you read **decent fiction (see ** at the bottom of the article for my definition of decent fiction), by default, you are getting a tiny dose of God’s word. You are getting a minimal amount of enticement, influence, and an invitation to emulate or desire the good being delivered to you through a fictional story.

I’m NOT saying decent fiction IS scripture. But, for those who don’t read or study God’s word at all, good, **decent fiction could be seen as their scripture; or the most amount of God’s word that they are willing to receive, couched secretly in something they would never dare to call “God’s word.”open book

So, what if you read your scriptures and you’re getting your dose of God’s word on a daily basis? Is fiction any good to you? Should you take any time to read it? Is it better than some good non-fiction, religious non-fiction, or commentary?

If God’s word is already a part of your life, then adding side-dishes of entertainment that include quotes, themes, and character-arcs that validate and witness of things you already believe, is, in my humble opinion, the best kind of entertainment and relaxation you can get. It validates, cements, and enhances your current love for goodness and your desire to live up to it. For myself, I love when I read a favorite fantasy series or religious commentary and find there the made-up stories of others, or the real-life experiences/opinions of others, that validate what I believe and bring it bursting out in some happy tale or personal declaration. It brings me joy, peace, excitement, and often it’s during those moments that I find deeper gospel parallels and better ways of understanding the word of God that is already available to me—that I have already studied.

Watch

One example is Aslan, the Great Lion of Narnia, the Son of the Emperor-over-the-sea. I don’t know what it is really like to see Jesus Christ face-to-face. But, when I read of the interactions of the characters with Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, I feel that C.S. Lewis’s basic ideology in writing those interactions is pretty accurate. Every time I read through the series I see deeper and deeper parallels between Aslan and Christ. I see it in how good people feel in his presence. I see it in how good people who need to repent feel in his presence. I see it in how wicked, unrepentant people feel in his presence. And, I see it in the good people who are deceived yet still good, and how they feel and act when they meet the Great Lion.

(If you’ve only ever read the popular The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, then you are missing a great amount of insight into the Savior. I here give a suggestion to any so inclined to read the Narnia series and take notes of every interaction between Aslan and the book characters. It will be a deep spiritual journey.)

I can go down the entire list of my favorite fantasy and science fiction and find moments, characters, or plot pieces that illustrate principles and doctrines of the gospel. The whole book is never something I can apply directly across. But, there are so many good vignettes that deliver delicious packets of truth. Take a look at this video I made from snippets of Harry Potter 5. A few quotes and a ton of doctrinal truth.

In non-fiction and religious commentary, I also often find personal declarations or life-stories that impact me deeply. Somehow, because I know real people have exhibited these elevated, godly characteristics of perseverance, self-sacrifice, endurance, humility, loss, and love, it strikes a chord that resonates with my personal affinities and beliefs.

So, again, I’m not advocating that any, or all, fictional writing is scripture. But, I am advocating that the word of God can be found in all that is good, uplifting, and ennobling. Whether you believe in Christ or not, anything that persuades you to believe in His truths and to do His works, comes from Him (this includes self-improvement as long as it’s not too eccentric). Decent fiction can be an incredible source of good doctrine and gospel principles. Good fiction makes for great parables or stories that illustrate gospel truths. Some of these stories can impact us with almost as much life-changing power as some actual scripture if we grasp the deeply hidden truths that shine out at us all, in different ways, as we read these texts.

There is, however, no substitute for the actual word of God. As much as I love reading I can testify of this to you from my own experience. In fact, being familiar with the real word of God amplifies and strengthens the truth we find elsewhere. This amplification will not take place and is not possible to us if we aren’t studying the “real thing.” The good things in fiction will have less power if they are not supported by a foundation of undiluted truth. It’s like trying to have a good red sauce for pasta with only good spices and no tomatoes. The tomatoes are what make it a red sauce. Fiction can make some truths more edible, but ultimately it isn’t a complete source for a spiritual foundation.

We are commanded to study our scriptures daily: the Book of Mormon, the Bible, the Pearl of Great Price, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the words of living prophets and apostles. As we do so, at least in my experience, the truths found in other more secular forms—such as fiction—stand out all the brighter, are more recognizable, and are more impactful in our lives.

BT

**Decent fiction, is to me, fiction that is written with the purpose of telling a good, uplifting story. There is some fiction that while it is “made up” has a purpose other than telling a good, uplifting story. Whether it’s goal is scaring the pants off of you or to arouse you to some unhealthy sexual feeling it is not “decent” in its ultimate goal. Those genres are labeled pretty well and should be fairly obviously “not decent.” So, steer clear. However, generally, I find that even fiction with some unsavory patches (maybe a few pages in the whole), as long as its main purpose is to tell a powerful story, those unsavory elements or pages quickly slide to the back and lose importance. Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what is “decent,” but I find that “if it leads us to do good, AND to believe in Christ, AND to serve Him,” then it is usually a good read.

Book with science fiction scene and open doorway of light

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.

Doctrine: The Light of Christ is our basic conscience, but it can be dulled or altered. The Power of the Holy Ghost is a momentary burst or intense “glow of truth” that is temporary so that we can choose to act upon it, but not be compelled. However, the GIFT of the Holy Ghost is an endowment of POWER that makes our imperfect efforts and sincere righteous desires effective in actually changing us into a godly beings.

For many Christians, there is a clear deficit in understanding the role of the GIFT of the Holy Ghost. I think this is because there are so many ways in which the Holy Spirit functions that most of us fail to see the distinctions between His several functions AND how we are supposed to take advantage of those functions for our own journey back to God. In fact, most people don’t understand and can’t differentiate between the Light of Christ, the Power of the Holy Ghost, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

The Light of Christ is something that comes with us when we are born into this world (Doctrine and Covenants 93:2; St. John 1:9). It is in our flesh, blood and spirit. In fact, it cannot be separated from us because it is tied directly to the power by which we were organized and made. Christ created the earth. Every particle of it is under His command and is given life and purpose by His divine influence. God, our Heavenly Father organized our spirits. Therefore, the innate goodness and godliness from which we originate has been preserved in our very nature. It is a part of who we are, eternally. Which, is why every person that comes into this world has a basic understanding of right and wrong and a sense of guilt. The Light of Christ is our basic conscience.

However, the Light of Christ is not sufficient to perfect us. It is an innate sense but not an active source for help. It can be warped or altered by our environment and life experiences as we actively choose to override it. Alone it is insufficient to help us become like God.

Unlike the Light of Christ, the Holy Spirit is an active source of guidance. The Holy Ghost is a member of the godhead. He is omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly loving, perfectly just, and so forth. He is exactly like God the Father and Jesus Christ. The only difference between Him and Them is that the Holy Ghost does not have a body of flesh and bone (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22-23). This bodily difference is necessary so that He can communicate directly with our spirits.

So, how is the Power of the Holy Ghost different from the Light of Christ?

Before we receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost through confirmation (after the ordinance of baptism), the Power of the Holy Ghost can descend upon us and give us what I like to call an intense “glow of truth.” This glow may be an injection of pure reason or logic that connects some spiritual and intellectual dots for our life. It can be a feeling of comfort or peace that something we have been taught or that we have read is true. It can be an unmistakable feeling of love or assurance that God is with us. But, the key to all of these things is that they are significant moments. We know during this intense “glow of truth” that something is God’s will, or that something is true, or that we need to make a little, significant, or a big change in our life.

But, while the glow is intense and something we are infinitely sure of while we feel it, it doesn’t stay with us. Why not? We’d certainly like it to, wouldn’t we? Because often when the glow is gone we doubt or lose sight of what we felt. But, the glow can’t be permanent. This is because once we know something God isn’t going to attach strings to our arms and legs and make us act on that knowledge. And, having a permanent intense “glow of truth” is akin to doing just that. No matter how great it feels when we feel it, to make the glow remain with us at that intensity is an act of compulsion.

Once the Holy Ghost has given us a clear witness, He has to step back to allow us to use our free will to follow it. The glow was an obvious and blatant invite to recognize and follow God’s truth and will. But, after the invitation has been delivered, we have to be free to choose (2 Nephi 2:27). God will not act upon us (2 Nephi 2:14-16).

So, what about the Gift of the Holy Ghost? If the Power of the Holy Ghost teaches us truth with an intense glow, what does the Gift of the Holy Ghost do?

Both before and after confirmation by the laying on of hands (see 4th Article of Faith), we experience the Power of the Holy Ghost (the glow) which is like a shot of veritaserum for our mind and heart (pardon the Harry Potter reference). But, it doesn’t last. However, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a much more subtle experience. Rather than a sporadic shot it is a consistent, subtle flow of direction.

For those who want the “constant glow,” they can get something even better through the Gift of the Holy Ghost by accepting the covenant of baptism and being confirmed by the laying on of hands (see 4th Article of Faith). This is because they have exercised their agency/free will to enter into a covenant to serve God and keep His commandments. Covenants are how God protects and dispenses His power (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33-36). Meaning, we can’t get access to certain aspects of His power without making a covenant with Him. Therefore, a condition of the baptismal covenant—wherein we agree to give our will to God and keep His commandments and take His name upon us—is that God provides us with the constant guidance (not compulsion) we want.

However, this constant guidance isn’t a gigantic glow. It is more like a trickle of constant truth that will aid us in our designs to become godly. It also doesn’t compel us to be godly. But, it puts forth subtle invitations that alter our path a little at a time toward a godly end. This trickle is meted out to us in greater or lesser degrees as we continue to exercise our agency in keeping commandments, seeking for more knowledge and understanding, becoming Christlike, and receiving and entering into more covenants. If we don’t keep our end of the covenants the trickle is slowed to an occasional drop and eventually will leave us if we fail to repent and keep trying. We don’t have to be perfect to have the guidance of the Holy Ghost. We only have to be sincerely trying.

So, what good is a constant trickle of truth? How do we use it? What does it do?

Now, I don’t wish to diminish the experiences of those who claim to have been preserved physically by the Holy Ghost’s promptings. And yet, the fact is that those inexperienced with the Gift of the Holy Ghost often seem to preach about such physical-saving experiences as if this is the most common and important purpose the Holy Ghost serves. It is not. In fact, if indeed the Holy Ghost prompts us to take an action that will preserve us physically (which He can and has done at times but certainly doesn’t do often), it is the least important function to hope for. And, if we are not preserved from physical accidents and calamities, it rarely has anything to do with our ability to listen to the Holy Ghost.

Consider this, Christ overcame death with His Atonement for all of us, regardless of how we choose to live in this life. Therefore, no matter what happens to our physical bodies, they are guaranteed to become perfected and resurrected. However, though Christ overcame sin for all of us with His Atonement, access to that portion of grace is guarded and protected by covenants and conditions, like all the rest of God’s power. We can’t be forgiven without sincere action on our part. To offer it otherwise would be a grand mockery of the sacrifice Christ gave. Therefore, in order to receive the spiritually perfecting power of the Atonement we have to use our agency to choose to repent, keep God’s commands, and follow the nudges we get from the Holy Ghost.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost differs from the Light of Christ and the Power of the Holy Ghost in that the Gift of the Holy Ghost has POWER to enact permanent changes in our very emotional, mental, spiritual, and psychological selves. This is what Christ was referring to when He said that we must be born, not only of water, but of the Spirit (St. John 3:5). Baptism is an ordinance and takes place in a moment. But, being slowly changed by the Holy Ghost over time is baptism by fire.

For example, if we have a temper problem but we desire to be better and exercise our agency to try to be slower to anger and more quick to listen and love; over time, the POWER of the GIFT of the Holy Ghost can take our sincere intent and make it powerful enough to actually change our innate nature. If we take any temptation or weakness and exercise our agency to change it or overcome it, the GIFT of the Holy Ghost has the POWER to help us to actually overcome and change.

It doesn’t matter if we have a very debilitating psychological or physical addiction. It doesn’t matter if we are encountered with something that isn’t very tempting to us at all. The amount of temptation or the level of the weakness doesn’t matter. In order to be released from that temptation or addiction we must exercise our agency to overcome it. That act, combined with the POWER of the GIFT of the Holy Ghost, is what gives us the power to change and overcome. It may take one time of saying no and steering away from a temptation. It may take thousands of attempts to say no and steer away from a temptation. Depending on who we are different struggles and temptations will be harder for us. But, a sincere effort, over time, combined with the Gift of the Holy Ghost is what actually purifies and SANCTIFIES us and helps us become more like our Father in Heaven.

This is the amazing role of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. And, combined with our basic conscience and occasional glowing bursts of the Power of the Holy Ghost, each of us is capable of using our agency to become like God. However, without the Gift of the Holy Ghost, even the Power of the Holy Ghost testifying of truth cannot make us godly. We need the POWER of the GIFT to enact real spiritual change in our very beings.

Because of the sacredness and the power of the GIFT of the Holy Ghost, it is guarded by covenant. So, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is not a power to trifle with. He is a member of the godhead. We can’t take His companionship and help for granted.

So, the Light of Christ is basic and beneficial. But, it can’t change our very beings. The occasional bursts and intense glows of truth we get from the Power of the Holy Ghost can help us know God’s will for us and help us recognize His truths. But this burst of truth is an isolated experience that abates in time so that we can exercise our agency to accept or reject it. But, the GIFT of the Holy Ghost is a gift of POWER to become better, until someday we can become perfect. This GIFT is the power by which we become sanctified and holy. And, it is guarded by sacred covenant and only dispensed to those who try to keep that covenant.

BT

Doctrine: 1) We don’t have to be perfect to receive blessings from God and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Our righteous desires and intent validate our imperfect efforts. 2) Guidance from the Holy Spirit will always be recognizable.

So, life’s in general pretty good. But, perhaps today, or the last several days, weeks, or months, you feel as though you are in a spiritual limbo. Or, maybe you’re in the middle of a mentally and emotionally taxing trial, and now it’s getting to you spiritually. Or, maybe you feel like you’re spiritually okay, but you’ve been seeking an answer or guidance in something and it seems to be elusive. You’re not really wondering if there’s an end, but when. You’re not really wondering if God’s going to help you out, but when…and what your role is in getting there.

There are many kinds of spiritual dilemmas, and I can’t list them all here. But, for the anxiously engaged Latter-day Saint, I find there is a common dilemma.

So, what’s this dilemma? It’s placed firmly between the rock of agency and the hard place of God’s grace. It’s the constant struggle to be anxiously engaged in righteousness while still turning our entire life over the will of God. It’s trying to do your part to get blessings without forgetting to submit to God’s plan for you. It’s trying to figure out when to let go and just let God handle it, or when to take more responsibility in the exercise of your agency to arrive at the righteous desires of your heart. It’s the rock and the hard place many good Christians find themselves between when blessings and guidance seem prolonged or well beyond the horizon.

Between a rock and a hard place
A paperclip figure standing between paving stone and a marble stone

We who have slid down into this dilemma often start over-self-examining our lives, our prayers, our Christian service, our past sins, our current weaknesses. Often we ask ourselves ridiculous questions…but they don’t seem ridiculous to us.

  • Have I forgotten to pray for the right thing? Did I get the wording wrong?

  • Have I failed to look in the “right place” for the right job, the needed information, or the answer?

  • Did I stop being anxiously engaged and so the blessing is being withheld?

  • Has God said no, or wait, and I simply missed the signal?

  • Did I respond to my own feelings and not a real prompting, because I thought it was a prompting, but now I’m not seeing any effect?

The list could go on for eternity. I know, I’ve made several such lists.

The problem, however, with such over-zealous self-examination and question lists is that we are ignoring, unaware of, or have forgotten two clear doctrines when it comes to how God works in our lives.

#1: The first doctrine that is misunderstood or misapplied is of our ability to earn blessings and grace. Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21 teaches us that there is an eternal law “upon which all blessings are predicated. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” God has also said, “I the Lord and bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10). Again, we also read, “But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with a doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned [or stopped in progress]” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:29).

The anxiously engaged Latter-day Saint often takes these scriptures to mean that if a blessing isn’t coming, then they must have failed to cross a “t” or dot an “I” somewhere in their commandment keeping; that somehow they have been “unknowingly” slothful; that their “unintentional” weaknesses are keeping them from God’s grace, answers, peace, comfort, and blessings.

The big deception here is that God expects us to be perfect commandment keepers before we can receive blessings and grace. This, is 100% untrue. We don’t have to be perfect. We only have to try to keep the commandments, and to do it with the right intent. “For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts” (Doctrine and Covenants 137:9).

Note, that God does say that our works matter, but that they are given validity (despite our inability to do them perfect) by the intent and the desire behind it. Our intent is like a seal of approval on a University Diploma or a watermark on a check: it validates that our efforts are not counterfeit or fake. Intent and desire for good validate good actions offered imperfectly. Jeffrey R. Holland said in this year’s April (2016) conference:

“With the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the strength of heaven to help us, we can improve, and the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed…

I love that doctrine! It says again and again that we are going to be blessed for our desire to be good, even as we actually strive to be so…” (Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You).

In Moroni 7 we learn that if our intent and desire is righteous then we can only give a good gift. On the other hand, we also learn that we can go through motions of goodness, but that if our intent and desire aren’t righteous, then those pretend motions of goodness don’t count in our favor. They’re fake, or counterfeit.

So, here’s the deal. If you are trying God isn’t going to hide some mysterious phrase from you that if you only used in your prayer, He would bless you. God doesn’t have a big labyrinth full of actions that only if you find and complete each and every one, He would bless you. God, our Heavenly Father, “delights to own and bless us, as we strive to do what’s right” (LDS Hymns 96, Dearest Children, God Is Near You).

#2: The second doctrine we often either have not yet come to understand or study is that promptings and inspiration from the Holy Ghost, while still and small, are NOT wisps of smoke that we can easily ignore or miss. They will carry significant emotional, spiritual, and mental weight; for God will tell us in our mind AND our heart—both (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3). Inspiration and promptings are not hidden under layers of odd images and symbols. God “doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men” (2 Nephi 2:26). (There are some more references to this “weight” further down.)

In other words, God doesn’t play games with any part of our life whether small or great. He doesn’t hide messages from us. He sets very basic conditions upon receiving such messages. If there is something important we need to know or do, the Holy Ghost will make sure we “feel” the weight of such a prompting if we are meeting the conditions for the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

Now, if you miss a day of scripture study due to sickness or sheer exhaustion; or if you by accident forget a morning prayer, or you were lax in your visiting or home teaching this month, you have not forfeited your right to guidance from the Spirit. Such thinking is rooted in issues mentioned in the first doctrine. You have to openly rebel against God, on purpose, and with evil intent to completely block your reception to the Holy Ghost.

However, if you want to get detailed, then let’s do so. The scriptures teach us that the mysteries of God are kept hidden and are only revealed unto us according to the heed and diligence we give unto that which is revealed to us (Alma 12:9). So, the more in tune our lives are to the Holy Ghost, then the more delicate promptings we can receive. So, there are differing levels of spiritual reception and guidance, but God has given very clearly such conditions: if we listen to and heed a prompting, we will receive more and more until our knowledge and righteous grow brighter and brighter, until the perfect day (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24).

While there are differing levels of spiritual instruction (based upon our heed and diligence) we’ll never be uncertain whether something IS a prompting. It won’t be that elusive. Think about it. We have to know we’ve been prompted or we can’t be accountable for not following the prompting. If we aren’t sure, we can’t be held accountable. Therefore, if you’ve received guidance, you will know.

Now, I don’t know how everyone feels the Spirit. But, most of the scriptural descriptions of the feelings of the Holy Ghost imply a significant “weight of feeling” that is unmistakable. It’s not always a burning in the bosom. Enos said, “…and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, SUNK DEEP INTO MY HEART.” Joseph smith said of James 1:5, “Never did any passage of scripture come with more POWER TO THE HEART of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to ENTER WITH GREAT FORCE into every feeling of my heart.” Joseph F. Smith said of the first epistle of Peter, as he read prior to his vision recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 138, “…and as I read I was GREATLY IMPRESSED, MORE THAN I HAD EVER BEEN BEFORE…”

Sometimes, our natural righteous inclinations lead us to do God’s will without Him having to reinforce it with a big feeling. An idea may just “sit right” with us. God doesn’t have to prompt us to do every good thing (Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-27).

Recently, of my own accord I felt the desire—based on my knowledge of her situation and struggles—to write a letter to a dear friend. I agonized over the letter for a few days, but worked hard to write it by the Spirit. Then, I put it in an envelope and put it in the mailbox. I certainly felt a little bit of trepidation about what was in the letter, but never at any time did I feel constrained not to send it. It “sat right” with me to send it, like the two opposing ends of magnets snapping together. I didn’t have to force the idea upon myself, or force myself to ignore any feelings of confusion or spiritual discomfort, like forcing the two same poles of two magnets together—without force they will push apart.

I didn’t feel remorse or guilt for writing the letter. And, I knew the testimony I had borne in the letter was true. Two days later, the very day this friend was receiving my letter, I received a letter from her asking the very questions I had answered in the letter I sent. It was then that I felt an immense weight of relief, joy, and confirmation that my righteous actions—taken without a big prompting—were inspired. Not because God had compelled me to send the letter, but because I had been anxiously engaged in doing something I desired which was right; and because I had sought to do it by the Spirit. As well, God didn’t have to compel me to write the letter, because if I hadn’t sent it, I would have received my friend’s letter eventually and been able to respond. So, it wasn’t a one-time-chance pass/fail thing either. God doesn’t work like that.

Consider, if it was so hard to know what God wanted or expected of us, then choice and accountability would be shot, as well as agency. What confidence could we have in the Holy Ghost if we believed He always spoke so small and still that we had to be perfect, and in perfect silence in the middle of a desert to hear him?

Do we need to live in a such a way to be open and receptive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and to receive the blessings we desire? Yes. But, if we’re making a consistent effort, not just token offerings, then we don’t have to destroy ourselves with guilt and misery that somehow we missed a light that flashed while we were accidentally blinking.

So, you don’t have to worry that God is playing games with your blessings, help, or answers. His promptings and guidance are clear and recognizable EVERY TIME. If you want deeper promptings and information, live a little closer to the Spirit and heed whatever guidance you receive. And, sometimes you just have to wait for your blessings and answers a little longer. Usually, when you are patient enough they end up being well worth the wait. At least, that has been my experience.

“Therefore, dearly beloved brethren [and sisters], let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power [with righteous desire and intent]; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:17).

BT