Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Feeling the Spirit

by Christopher R. Greenwood
and Spiritual Atrophy

Many years ago, when I was a Deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood, I had the privilege of going home teaching with my father as my companion.  One particular month, my dad had been given a new Sister on his list who he promptly called and set an appointment.  With the appointment set, my dad approached me and told me when I would be needed.  On the designated day, my dad and I went to the home of this very elderly sister.  All my Dad and I knew about her was that she had been a member all her life, her husband had passed, she lived on a farm outside of town and had been the recipient of much assistance from others in the Ward when it came to mowing her lawn, going shopping, etc.

I remember how cordially she greeted us and brought us inside her home.  After some initial conversation, Dad began his lesson.  I remember vividly that during that lesson, this sister, who had been a member of the Church her entire life, stopped my father and in the middle of his lesson, she confessed to him that she had never felt the Spirit of the Lord or ever recalled a single experience in her life where she had felt the Spirit.  I remember how surprised my dad was at hearing that.  I also remember how silent I was, grateful that my Dad would answer this question.  I did not feel prepared to answer her question.  What did I know?  I do not remember what my Dad told her, but I do remember thinking to myself that I did not want to have that happen to me.

I have never forgotten this experience.  As time has gone on, and as I have matured in the Gospel, I often reflect on how I would respond if somebody asked me that question.  “What would I tell her now” if I was given the chance.

What does it mean to feel the Spirit?  How does one recognize the promptings when they do come? 
The Prophet Joseph Smith explained: “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; … those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.”  (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 10, Prayer and Personal Revelation)

Revelation comes as words we feel more than hear. Nephi told his wayward brothers, who were visited by an angel, “Ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.  

The scriptures are full of such expressions as “The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened,” or “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart,” or “I did enlighten thy mind,” or “Speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts.” There are hundreds of verses which teach of revelation.

President Marion G. Romney, quoting the prophet Enos, said, “While I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind.” Enos then related what the Lord put into his mind.

“This,” President Romney said, “is a very common means of revelation. It comes into one’s mind in words and sentences. With this medium of revelation I am personally well acquainted.”  
President Howard W. Hunter: “Developing spirituality … will not happen by chance, but is accomplished only through deliberate effort and by calling upon God and keeping his commandments.” 

President Gordon B. Hinckley: “I feel deeply that far too few of our converts have read the Book of Mormon. I feel that far too few have any understanding of the history of the Church. … Those we teach need the Spirit and the conversion power of that great and sacred volume [the Book of Mormon].” 

President Thomas S. Monson: “The spiritual nature within us should not be dominated by the physical. It behooves each of us to remember who he or she is and what God expects him or her to become.”  

President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “The Holy Ghost communicates with the spirit through the mind more than through the physical senses. This guidance comes as thoughts, as feelings, through impressions and promptings. It is not always easy to describe inspiration. The scriptures teach us that we may ‘feel’ the words of spiritual communication more than hear them, and see with spiritual rather than with mortal eyes.”  

President Spencer W. Kimball: “Nothing builds spirituality … more than regular temple attendance.”  
How does a person know when he or she truly has received a manifestation of the Holy Ghost? The person will know it by how he or she feels.  The Spirit will touch a person who may have been passive in the drama of life and make of him or her a witness to the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and all it stands for.  As Elder Marion G. Romney said, “No person whose soul is illuminated by the burning Spirit of God can … remain passive. He is driven by an irresistible urge to fit himself to be an active agent of God in furthering righteousness and in freeing the lives and minds of men from the bondage of sin.” 

There is also a sense of unity that comes with the outpouring of the Spirit.  As one becomes united with the Spirit, he or she also becomes united with fellow members and leaders—“fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).

President Boyd K. Packer explains that the Holy Ghost speaks with a voice that you feel more than you hear. It is described as a “still small voice.”  And while we speak of “listening” to the whisperings of the Spirit, most often one describes a spiritual prompting by saying, “I had a feeling” (Boyd K. Packer, Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise, October 1994)

Consider the experience of an early convert, Luman Andros Shurtliff, who went to Kirtland to see if the Church was true and ended up getting baptized.  Like the Sister I home taught so many years ago, he had some questions about how to recognize the Spirit when it came into his life.  Following baptism, he nearly faltered until the converting power of the Spirit entered his life and he recognized it.

“In the morning I went to the office and bought a Book of Mormon and started [home], intending to get onto the stage road as soon as I could. … Soon my thoughts ran thus. I had [been] to Kirtland and was on my return. I knew that some of the neighbors had partially known my feeling and were watching me, and as soon as I got [home] would ask me questions relative to my discoveries, and what I had learned about the [Latter-day Saints]. What could I tell them? I could tell them I had been [baptized] and confirmed a member of the … Church, and what evidence have I obtained more than I had years ago? Not any. Have I received the Holy Ghost since I was [baptized]? No more [than] when I was [baptized] before. Did I believe the Book of Mormon? No more [than] I did four years ago. Do I believe that Joseph Smith Jun. is a Prophet of God? No, I do not. At this I was shocked at my situation and began to call on the Lord in earnest. And while I was praying, something came on my head … and passed gradually down through my whole system, removing all pain and made me a sound man from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. As soon as this was past, I heard a … voice above me say, ‘Joseph Smith, Jun. is a Prophet of the Most High God, raised up for the restoration of Israel in these last days, and the Book of Mormon which you hold under your arm is true and brought forth for the restitution of the scattered remnants of Jacob.’ … I was in the road a sound man praising God.”  (Doctrinal Insights to the Book of Mormon, K. Douglas Bassett, PhD, CFI, Springville, Utah pg. 219)

What creates the setting or the opportunity so that fire and the Holy Ghost might be sent from heaven to bless the lives of members?  It comes by following the scriptures and the teachings of the leaders of the Church. Here are a few examples:

President Kimball: “The gift of the Holy Ghost grows with worthiness. If you are baptized when you are eight years old, of course you are a child, and there is much you would not be expected to know. But the Holy Ghost comes to you as you grow and learn and make yourselves worthy. It comes a little at a time as you merit it. And as your life is in harmony, you gradually receive the Holy Ghost in a great measure.”  

In response to a request by the Twelve Apostles for instruction, Joseph taught, “The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching” (History of the Church, 4:425).

And on another occasion, the Prophet Joseph explained that “reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God” (History of the Church, 6:50).

This does not mean we should have no interest in Church history or in reading these accounts.  I love Church history and my joy when visiting Church historical sites is intensified by knowing their background.  But the more lasting impressions are from what is felt there, rather than what is remembered.

Here is a Gospel truth:  Remember that in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the plan has always been short term discipline and long term happiness.  The plan for Satan has always been short term happiness, long term misery, guilt, pain, etc.

What does a spiritual confirmation feel like?  If that Sister that I home taught were here with me now, I would tell her that it’s the feeling you have when you read the Book of Mormon or go to Church.  It’s the feeling you have when you go to the Temple or talk of heavenly things with your parents or a valued friend.

Learn to recognize it.  More importantly, learn to follow it.

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