Spiritual Messages and Teachings for LDS Youth and Youth Leaders

How Does the Spirit Speak to Us?

By: John Bytheway

From the book What I Wish I’d Known in High School: Second Semester

As a junior in high school, I found myself one afternoon at the bowling alley with some friends. I rented a pair of lovely, high-fashion bowling shoes, chose a bowling ball, and waited for my turn. As I stood ready to deliver my ball down the lane, I noticed the little lighted number “11” at the end of the lane just above the pins. I was puzzled. Usually, you’ll see a little number 1, indicating that this is your first ball. Well, to me, it looked like an 11. I squinted, and contorted my face, and the little green number 11 “morphed” into a number 1, and then back to a number 11. This was the first time I realized I needed glasses. I had always wanted to be a fighter pilot, but without 20-20 vision, I would have to settle for something else (but that’s another story).

A few days later, I stood in the eye doctor’s office and put on my new glasses for the first time. It was great. I looked out the window at billboard advertisements, and I was surprised at how sharp and clear they appeared. I could read the stenciled letters on the dumpster in the parking lot! And the next time I went bowling, I watched that 11 merge into a sharp and clear number 1. I repeatedly took off and put on my glasses and watched the number go from blurry to clear.

Why the bowling story? Well, I think one of the most common ways we feel the Spirit is that it makes things go from blurry to clear—just like putting on glasses. When the Spirit is with us we can “see” better than before. The word often used in the scriptures is enlighten.

Verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy. (D&C 11:13; emphasis added)

Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth. (D&C 6:15; emphasis added)

For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man. (D&C 76:10; emphasis added)

For my Spirit is sent forth into the world to enlighten the humble and contrite, and to the condemnation of the ungodly. (D&C 136:33; emphasis added)

I’ve often sat in meetings where I felt “enlightened.” There was no burning feeling, and no glorious vision, but the Spirit was present nonetheless. Inside, I felt enlightened, instructed. Everything became clear. “John,” my thoughts would say, “you need to do better on your scripture reading.” Or, “John, you need to do better in your prayers.” Nephi’s younger brother Jacob taught, “The Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls” (Jacob 4:13). That’s the way it is. The Spirit makes things plain.

I have also noticed that when I feel “enlightened,” I sometimes feel a little bit scolded. The Spirit seems to be saying, “John, you can do better, and you know it.” I guess I don’t mind being scolded in these situations. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “When conscience calls to us from the next ridge, it is not solely to scold but also to beckon.” 3 That “scolding” is the Spirit beckoning me to do better. “C’mon, John. Come up to higher ground. You can do better. You can be better!” I absolutely love it when I have this feeling. I know I make my best decisions under its influence, and I want to feel it as often as I can. That’s why this is one of my favorite quotes:

Men are mortal and beset by human frailties. . . . When they are under the influence of an exalted occasion, they make high resolves. They firmly determine to avoid past mistakes and to do better. But gone out from under the spell of that influence and absorbed in the complicated pursuits of life, they find difficulty in holding fast to their noble purposes. . . . So it is essential that they come again, and frequently, under the influence which kindles anew the warmth of spirit in which good resolutions are begotten, that they may go out fortified to withstand the pressures of temptation which lure them into false ways. Happily, if they refresh themselves frequently enough under ennobling influences, the spirit of repentance will be at work with them, and they will make conquest of some temptations—rise above them—and advance thus far toward their final goal. 4

That was a long quote, but did you catch the main message? “Come again, and frequently!” To me, this quote says that if we want to feel those “enlightening” moments, we need to take advantage of every chance we have to feel the Spirit—every opportunity to attend a fireside, a standards night, our Sunday meetings, and our family home evenings; every opportunity we have to attend seminary, read our scriptures, listen to good music, watch Church videos. Every opportunity we have to make our thoughts go from blurry to clear, we need to take it!

When it comes to matters of the Spirit, we need to be careful not to compare ourselves to others too much. Some people seem to think that the Spirit affects everyone the same way. For example, some may believe that “whoever cries the most is the most spiritual,” and that’s not necessarily true. For some people, the presence of the Spirit may bring tears. For others it doesn’t. You may feel the Spirit very strongly and not shed any tears at all. Some may confuse strong emotion for the Spirit. Elder Boyd K. Packer said:

The spiritual part of us and the emotional part of us are so closely linked that it is possible to mistake an emotional impulse for something spiritual. We occasionally find people who receive what they assume to be spiritual promptings from God, when those promptings are either centered in the emotions or are from the adversary. 5

If I had one thing to say to teenagers about recognizing the Spirit, it would be this: “Be patient, be clean, and don’t give up.” This is a difficult topic to write about, because I feel like I’m just beginning to understand how the Spirit works in my life—and I’m already ___ years old! (I’m not going to tell you how old I am, but if you’re a teenager, I’m older than you.)

In the April 1989 Ensign, there is an excellent article titled “Have I Received an Answer from the Spirit?” In this article, Brother Jay E. Jensen outlines several different ways the Spirit may communicate with us. The Spirit:

Speaks peace to the mind

Causes the bosom to burn

Tells us in our minds and our hearts

Comes as a voice in the mind

Leads us to do something

Occupies our minds and presses upon our feelings

Constrains us from dangerous or improper things

As we go through this list, I bet you’ll remember times when the Spirit has helped you. Let’s talk about each one for a minute.

The Spirit speaks peace to the mind. The Spirit can bring peace, calmness, and tranquillity. It can remove turmoil and anxious feelings. The Lord answered one of Oliver Cowdery’s prayers by sending a feeling of peace. This is interesting: Later, the Lord gave Oliver a revelation to inform him that he had already received a revelation!

Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.

Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?

And now, behold, you have received a witness; for if I have told you things which no man knoweth have you not received a witness? (D&C 6:22-23)

Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), and he spoke to his disciples about peace:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)

The Spirit causes the bosom to burn. After Jesus was resurrected, he walked with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. He talked with them for a while, and then left. They didn’t recognize him when he was with them, but after he left they said, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).

Don’t be too discouraged if you’ve never felt this warm feeling. Because of the wonderful counsel given to Oliver Cowdery in Doctrine and Covenants section 9, many have felt like spiritual misfits if they have never experienced the “burning in the bosom.” In the article mentioned above, Brother Jensen relates the following story, shared by a member of the Quorum of the Seventy:

One of the Quorum of the Twelve came to tour the mission over which the Seventy was presiding. As they drove to the next zone conference, the Apostle turned to him and said, “I wonder if you might have left an impression in the missionaries’ minds that has created more problems than you can resolve. As I have traveled throughout the Church, I’ve found relatively few people who have experienced a burning of the bosom. In fact, I’ve had many people tell me that they’ve become frustrated because they have never experienced that feeling even though they have prayed or fasted for long periods of time.”

He explained that Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9 was given in response to the process of translating sacred records. There the burning of the bosom was appropriate. The principle can apply to personal revelation, he said, but more precisely it related to the translation of the Book of Mormon. He counseled the mission president to refer missionaries to other scriptural references about the Holy Ghost. For example, he cited the verse “Did not I speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” 6

The Spirit tells us in our minds and hearts. I spent a lot of time on this one earlier in the chapter, because I believe it is the most common way we feel the Spirit. When the Spirit speaks to our minds and hearts, we are “enlightened” and things become clear. The Lord told Oliver Cowdery, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (D&C 8:2). Not only do things make sense in our minds, but they feel right in our hearts. I think that’s why the scripture says mind and heart.

The Spirit comes as a voice in the mind. President David O. McKay has said that the Holy Ghost speaks through the conscience of the members of the Church who are in the line of their duty. Most people’s thoughts are in their own voice, and when thoughts come into your mind, it may be hard to distinguish between your own voice and the Spirit of the Lord. Others times it may be very clear that the “voice” came from somewhere else. Brother Jensen continues:

At times, a person may actually hear an audible voice; at other times, a person may have an impression or a thought come into his mind expressed in one or more complete sentences. Enos reported that while he was “struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into [his] mind.” (Enos 1:10.) 7

The Spirit leads us to do something. This is another common way that the Spirit influences us. I’m sure you’ve heard stories about someone who “felt impressed” to make a phone call, or visit someone, or do a favor for someone, and it turned out that the person really needed that service at that time. You may have even been led by the Spirit to say “hi” to someone at school, or to keep someone company who was having a hard day. The Spirit can lead you to do these things.

I remember attending a very rowdy Scout meeting one Tuesday night many years ago. Our Scoutmaster was doing his best to teach us about the Citizenship in the World merit badge, but we were bouncing off the walls. He did what he could to explain the requirements, but we were being totally obnoxious. He finally finished and asked someone to give the prayer. With my head bowed, I remember feeling like something was wrong. I watched my Scoutmaster putting away his things after the prayer, and I felt bad. Something—I believe it was the Spirit—told me that he felt like he had failed. I determined that I would go home and work on that merit badge until I earned it. I wanted my Scoutmaster to know that I did not ignore all his work that night.

The Lord told Hyrum Smith:

And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. (D&C 11:12)

That may seem like a simple scripture, but it’s important to emphasize that the Spirit leads us to do good. If someone says something like, “The Spirit led me to slug my little brother,” or “The Spirit told me not to listen to the prophet,” I think you can know it’s not the Spirit of the Lord. The prophet Mormon gave us a key for how to judge if a prompting comes from the Spirit of the Lord or the spirit of the devil:

But behold, 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. . . .

89But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him. (Moroni 7:13, 17)

Some people are deceived and even leave the Church because they are confused in this area. They may think they have been given a “higher law.” They may suddenly feel that they are more entitled to inspiration than the leaders of the Church. The Spirit would not tell anyone to go against the prophet and leave the Church. Sorry, folks, it’s just not going to happen. If they knew the scriptures, they would know they had been deceived. Remember, as the Primary song says, “Follow the prophet”! President Wilford Woodruff said:

The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.

One of the reasons I love to watch general conference is because I know that if I listen to the prophet, and follow him, I will not be led astray.

The Spirit occupies our minds and presses upon our feelings. I love to read Joseph Smith’s testimony. You’ll remember that he read from the book of James, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). Once he’d read that verse, he couldn’t get it out of his mind! Listen to his own words:

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. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did. (Joseph Smith-History 1:12)

The Spirit of the Lord was telling Joseph that this verse was important. Many sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were revealed after the Prophet was impressed to meditate and ponder about a certain subject for a long time.

In the same way, if you seem to be reflecting on something again and again, maybe the Lord is trying to tell you something too.

The Spirit constrains us from dangerous or improper things. Many years ago, my brother David was driving to a party up Emigration Canyon. Suddenly, a feeling came over him that he should turn around and go home. So he turned around and headed back. But then he started to think, “They’re expecting me, they’re waiting for me, and they’ll be worried if I don’t show up,” so he turned around and started back up the canyon. The feeling came again, “Turn around and go home.” So he turned around and headed home again. But the same objections arose in his mind. This time David stopped the car, knelt down, and prayed. He told the Lord that he felt he was getting promptings from the Spirit, but that people were waiting for him, and he needed to go. He told the Lord, however, that if he felt the prompting again, he would head home with no more questions. The Lord seemed to let him continue this time, but David knew something was wrong at that party, because the Lord had warned him. When David arrived, he found that there was something wrong, and that he needed to get out of there. He stayed long enough to persuade two of his friends to get in the car, and the three of them drove home.

When I was on my mission, many times I would get a feeling that I shouldn’t go to certain places. Sometimes I would think, “Was that my own thoughts or the Spirit?” When the feeling seemed to come out of nowhere, I obeyed. I don’t know what would have happened if I had ignored the Spirit on those occasions, but that’s not the point. The point is, follow the Spirit when it constrains! It’s smarter than you are!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>