Receiving, Recognizing, and Responding to the Promptings of the Holy Ghost

Elder David A. Bednar

Ricks College Devotional

August 31, 1999

 

Brothers and sisters, it is a pleasure and a privilege for me to welcome you to a new semester and academic year at Ricks College. To students, faculty, and staff, both new and returning, welcome. We are delighted you are here at Ricks.

The message I hope to communicate this afternoon is an important one. I pray for and invite the Holy Ghost to be with each of us today, that we may truly understand one another and be edified and rejoice together (D&C 50:22).

Please have your scriptures ready to use. Today I will refer to a number of scriptures—many more than we could possibly look up and read together in the allotted devotional time. Some of the references I will specifically ask you to look up in your scriptures and read along with me; other verses I will quote directly and provide only the reference. You may find it helpful to jot down the references and study the quoted verses in more detail at a later time.

Sister Bednar and I love to meet and associate with the students of Ricks College. On the weekends when I do not have an assignment to fulfill in connection with my service in the Quorum of the Seventy, Susan and I frequently go tracting in the dorms and apartment complexes. We enjoy knocking on doors, introducing ourselves to a group of students, and spending a few minutes getting acquainted and asking questions. We also like to visit with students as we run laps at the football stadium or in the Hart Building. And on most

Monday nights Sister Bednar and I host family home evening for approximately 100 of you students. Typically we sing an opening hymn, pray, and then we invite the students to ask gospel questions or to identify topics they would like to discuss. We conclude with a benediction and lots of ice cream.

Susan and I have been meeting with groups of students every Monday night since we moved to Rexburg in the summer of 1997. Most of the questions students ask are both insightful and instructive, and we have learned a great deal about you through the questions you have asked. Let me share with you just a few of the most commonly asked questions.

• Elder and Sister Bednar, please tell us how you obtained your testimonies. What do you do to strengthen your testimonies?

• Elder Bednar, what have you learned working with President Hinckley?


• What advice or counsel do you have for us as future wives and mothers and husbands and fathers?

• How do you know when you have met the right one?

• What is your favorite scripture?

Today I want to address the one question that is asked most frequently by the students with whom we meet. In fact, during the entire time we have been holding family home evenings with students, I cannot remember a single time when some version of this question was not asked. Here’s the question: "Elder and Sister Bednar, how can I tell the difference between my emotions telling me what I want to hear and the Holy Ghost telling me what I need to hear?"

Now, I certainly do not presume to have a complete or perfect answer to this question. But I would like to discuss with you some of the things I have learned about receiving, recognizing, and responding to the influence of the Holy Ghost.

The Doctrine of the Godhead

The beginning of the answer to this important question is found in a correct understanding of the nature of the Godhead. The first Article of Faith states: "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost." It is important to remember the simple but profound truth that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct beings. In this dispensation, the Prophet Joseph Smith came to understand this fundamental and powerful doctrine in the Sacred Grove in 1820, and he boldly proclaimed the true nature of God throughout his mortal ministry. As Joseph taught, "If men do not comprehend the nature of God, they do not comprehend themselves" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 343).

Please turn with me to Section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants. I want to draw your attention to verses 21 and 22.

The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.

Thus, the three members of the Godhead are separate beings who are perfectly united in one overarching purpose, which is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39). I testify that God, indeed, is our Eternal Father; we literally are His spirit children. He and His Beloved Son know, are concerned about, and love each one of us.

The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit who bears witness to the truth. The Holy Ghost also is referred to in the scriptures as the Comforter (John 14:16-27, Moroni 8:26), a Teacher (John 14:26; D&C 50:14), and a Revelator (2 Nephi 32:5). It is through the Holy Ghost that the revelations of the Father and the Son are given. The Holy Ghost is the witness of, the messenger for, and the testifier of the Father and the Son.

Given these fundamental truths, consider then that prayer is the process whereby we as sons and daughters communicate with our Heavenly Father. We are counseled to pray to the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Holy Ghost. Revelation is the process whereby our Heavenly Father communicates with us. Remember, it is through the Holy Ghost that the revelations of the Father and the Son are conveyed to men and women here upon the earth.

Revelations or messages from the Eternal Father to his children can come in many ways, including, for example, visitations, visions, and dreams. However, it is important to note that in the scriptures the influence of the Holy Ghost is frequently described as ". . . a still small voice . . ." (3 Nephi 11:3; 1 Kings 19:12) and a ". . . voice of perfect mildness . . ." (Helaman 5:30). The influence of the Holy Ghost is gentle, tender, and delicate.

Please turn with me now to Section 8 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 8 is a revelation given to Oliver Cowdery through the Prophet Joseph Smith during the work of translating the Book of Mormon. Verses two and three describe the spiritual gift of revelation and the process whereby this gift typically occurs.

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. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation . . . .

These verses teach us that revelation from our Father, in its most familiar form, comes through the Holy Ghost as thoughts to our minds and feelings to our hearts. Thus, God communicates with us through our very thoughts and feelings! It should not be hard to understand why we are counseled to avoid polluting our minds with pornography, watching R-rated and inappropriate movies and television programs, and taking into our bodies harmful and addictive substances such as drugs and alcohol. These tools of the Adversary can restrict and eventually destroy our ability to recognize and respond to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. As President Boyd K. Packer has explained:

These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels more than one hears . . . . The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather, it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all. (Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord," in That All May Be Edified, pg. 335-336)

Now I need your help for a brief demonstration. In my hand I am holding a tuning fork. As many of you know, a tuning fork provides a constant standard or pitch to which a musical instrument is tuned. Please be just as quiet as you can and listen for a moment. Just like the sound produced by this tuning fork, the Holy Ghost is constant, steady, and sure. The sound is not brash like the crashing of cymbals; it is not loud like the sound of a trumpet. It is subtle and subdued; it whispers and beckons in softness. And you and I must tune the strings of our souls to the standard of the Holy Ghost.

I have wondered if we as members of the Church talk about and emphasize marvelous, magnificent, and dramatic spiritual manifestations so often that we perhaps overlook the customary influence of the Holy Ghost that is quiet, delicate, and subtle. President Packer also has taught:

I have learned that strong, impressive spiritual experiences do not come to us very frequently. And when they do, they are generally for our own edification, instruction, or correction. Unless we are called by proper authority to do so, they do not position us to counsel or to correct others.

I have come to believe also that it is not wise to continually talk of unusual spiritual experiences. They are to be guarded with care and shared only when the Spirit itself prompts us to use them to the blessing of others. (Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord," in That All May Be Edified, pg. 337)

Now, brothers and sisters, in my ministry I have talked with many young people who, because they have not had a personal interview with the angel Moroni or some other miraculous manifestation, question the strength of their own testimony and spiritual capacity. If you have had similar thoughts or doubts, please know that you are normal and everything is "ok." Such concerns are usually made worse by friends or associates or classmates who do not know about or do not follow President Packer’s advice and talk unwisely about purported spiritual experiences. Please remember this important principle: People who have profound spiritual experiences do not talk about them, except in the rarest of circumstances. It would be a good thing for you to consider the implications of that principle.

Consider this counsel from President Joseph F. Smith:

Show me Latter-day Saints who have to feed upon miracles, signs, and visions in order to keep them steadfast in the Church, and I will show you members of the Church who are not in good standing before God, and who are walking in slippery paths. It is not by marvelous manifestations unto us that we shall be established in the truth, but it is by humility, and faithful obedience to the commandments and laws of God. (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, pg. 7)

Your simple, faithful obedience and dedication are the surest indicators of your spiritual capacity. Just keep moving forward with faith in the Savior, and you will be fine.

Now, brothers and sisters, in the world today there are many deceptive and counterfeit tones that imitate the true sound and standard of this tuning fork. For example, I wonder if we sometimes too easily mistake personal sentiment and spiritual sensationalism for the promptings of the Holy Ghost. If we are not careful and discerning, we may mistakenly follow a false sound that will lead us astray. As the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, ". . . For nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 205).

Because the Holy Ghost typically uses our minds and our hearts to convey spiritual messages, it can sometimes be difficult to discern the difference between our own thoughts and feelings and those communicated from our Heavenly Father. May I now suggest four principles that can help us to receive, recognize, and respond to the Holy Ghost in our daily lives.

Principle #1 — We must desire the companionship of the Holy Ghost.

Simply stated, we must desire, yearn for, and seek the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Please turn with me to 3 Nephi 19:6-9:

And the twelve did teach the multitude; and behold, they did cause that the multitude should kneel down upon the face of the earth, and should pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus.

And the disciples did pray unto the Father also in the name of Jesus. And it came to pass that they arose and ministered unto the people.

And when they had ministered those same words which Jesus had spoken—nothing varying from the words which Jesus had spoken—behold, they knelt again and prayed to the Father in the name of Jesus.

And they did pray for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them.

Do you and I likewise remember to pray, both morning and night, for that which we should most desire, even the Holy Ghost? Or do we get caught up in the routine of daily living and the cares of the world and neglect this most valuable of all gifts. Receiving, recognizing, and responding to the Holy Ghost starts with our sincere and constant desire for His companionship and influence in our lives.

Principle #2 — We must invite the companionship of the Holy Ghost

We receive more readily and recognize more clearly the influence of the Holy Ghost as we specifically invite Him into our lives. Please turn with me to Section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants and note verse 14: "And the spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith . . . ."

In Section 63 verse 64 we are instructed: "Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit; and in this there is no condemnation, and ye receive the Spirit through prayer . . . ."

We cannot compel or coerce or command the Holy Ghost. We must invite Him into our lives with the same gentleness and tenderness by which He influences us. Frankly, I am bothered by frequently repeated language that suggests we can "call down the powers of heaven." Certainly we can invite such power, but I would never suggest we can "call it down" according to our will and timing.

Our invitations for the companionship of the Holy Ghost can occur in many ways. We invite the Holy Ghost into our lives through the making and keeping of sacred covenants. Meaningful personal prayer every morning and every night invites the Holy Ghost into our lives. Searching the scriptures daily and diligently invites the Holy Ghost into our lives. Sincere worship in our homes and at Church invites the Holy Ghost into our lives. Appropriateness in our relationships with family members and friends invites the Holy Ghost into our lives. Virtuous thoughts and actions and language and dress invite the Holy Ghost into our lives. Conversely, casualness about or the breaking of covenants and commitments, failing to pray and study the scriptures, and inappropriate thoughts and actions and language and dress cause the Holy Ghost to withdraw or to avoid us altogether. Can you begin to understand why abiding by the Honor and Dress Codes is so important to your success at Ricks College? These Codes are not about curfew and clothing; rather, they are about commitments and obedience. Most importantly, the Honor and Dress Codes are about inviting the presence of the Holy Ghost into our lives, into our classrooms, and to this special campus.

Please do not believe the falsehood that somehow you and I can " . . . live the spirit of the law even if we are in violation of its letter" (Elder M. Russell Ballard, BYU Speeches, March 12, 1996, pg. 189). The small things really do matter when it comes to personal worthiness and inviting the Holy Ghost into our lives. Elder Richard G. Scott has taught: "Even matters that are considered relatively small deviations will seriously affect [your] capacity to be led by the Spirit" (Helping Others to Be Spiritually Led, an address delivered at a symposium on August 11, 1998, at Brigham Young University, pg. 12). Thus, because small things do matter, you and I should strive to become like the stripling warriors described in the Book of Mormon who:

. . . did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them . . . . (Alma 57:21)

. . . and they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea, they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually; and their faith is strong in the prophecies concerning that which is to come . . . . (Alma 58:40)

Now before I discuss the next principle, I must raise a voice of warning as both a Seventy and as the president of Ricks College. The opposite of inviting the Spirit is offending or repulsing the Spirit. In our modern world, the very technologies that bless our lives and enable us to instantly view and access news and information from around the world also have the potential to drive the Spirit away from us and even destroy us. Vile and filthy pornographic material can be accessed in the privacy of our homes, our offices, and our work areas with the simple click of a computer mouse or a TV remote control. Perhaps the most sinister aspect of such sin is the fact that it seemingly occurs in private. And if we come to believe that sinning "in secret" somehow is less serious because it does not hurt anyone else, then we may be less willing or even unable to stop. Remember, Satan and Cain devised their evil plan "in secret" (Moses 5:30). But we can keep no secrets from our Heavenly Father. The Holy Ghost knows about, is offended by, and flees from those who view pornographic material, whether in public or in private.

It just may be the case that an idle moment of casual curiosity while surfing through TV channels or on the Internet ensnares us in a trap of evil from which we might never escape. To all students and employees at Ricks College, please avoid pornographic materials of any kind. Pornography is an insidious poison. Viewing pornography is addictive and will destroy you spiritually. It can also cause you to lose the privilege of studying at or continuing as an employee of this great institution. Such salacious materials have the potential to destroy individuals and thereby to weaken the entire campus community. All of us who are blessed to study and work at Ricks College have a sacred responsibility to live in such a way that the Holy Ghost can reside with us and on this campus.

Principle #3 — We must heed simple promptings.

We are prompted by the Holy Ghost every day to do ordinary and simple things. For example, we are prompted to say our personal prayers every morning and every night. We are prompted to study the scriptures. We are prompted to keep the commitments we made in connection with the Honor and Dress Codes. To the degree that we heed these simple promptings, then our capacity to recognize and respond to the Holy Ghost is increased. To the degree that we do not heed these simple promptings, then our capacity to recognize and respond to the Holy Ghost is decreased. We are either progressing or regressing in our ability to recognize and respond to the Holy Ghost. There is no neutral ground; there is no standing still.

The law of the harvest is real; we cannot gather crops in the fall which we did not properly plant and cultivate during the spring and summer. And we cannot realistically expect to recognize "big" promptings if we consistently fail to heed the "small" ones. The Lord’s pattern is to teach us ". . . line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little . . ." (2 Nephi 28:30). Thus, revelation from our Heavenly Father comes most frequently in small increments and, like all knowledge, is granted according to our preparation. Misguided attempts to get spiritually supercharged through unusually long prayers, lengthy and unwise fasting, and intensive, short-term temple attendance certainly are no substitute for gradual, consistent, and conscientious attention to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

Principle #4 — We must heed promptings quickly.

Have you ever received and recognized a prompting from the Holy Ghost, and then decided to respond to it "later"? And then when later arrived, you found that you could not remember the prompting. I have learned that acting upon promptings quickly greatly increases our capacity to receive and recognize the influence of the Holy Ghost. I have also learned that properly recording spiritual impressions demonstrates to the Savior how much I treasure His direction. The simple practice of writing down spiritual thoughts and feelings greatly enhances the likelihood of receiving and recognizing additional promptings from the Holy Ghost.

Brothers and sisters, those are the four basic principles I have learned about receiving, recognizing, and responding to the promptings of the Holy Ghost: (1) desire, (2) invite, (3) heed simple promptings, and (4) heed promptings quickly. If you and I have a sincere desire for the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, invite His influence into our lives through our obedience and actions, and learn to heed simple promptings and to do so quickly, then I testify and promise that we will be able to tell the difference between our own emotions telling us what we want to hear and the Holy Ghost telling us what we need to hear.

I once was traveling to a stake conference assignment on a small and noisy commuter airplane. Seated in the row just in front of me on the plane was a woman with three young children ranging in age from an infant to a four-year-old. Because the plane had only two seats on each side of the center aisle, the mother was situated quite some distance from her oldest child, a cute little boy who obviously was flying on an airplane for the very first time. His nose was pressed firmly against the window so he would have a good view of everything that was taking place, and he delighted in describing what he was seeing to his mother as the engines started and as we taxied down the runway for takeoff. The little boy’s eyes were wide and his voice was full of excitement as the plane climbed into the sky.

During all of this time, however, the mother was busy with the two youngest children, getting them buckled into their seats, finding toys, and responding to their needs and requests. The mother consistently had been responding to the little boy’s enthusiastic exclamations in a calm, soothing voice. But because of the noise of the engines and the clatter of the small airplane, the little boy could not hear his mother’s responses. After we had been in the air for about five minutes, and thinking that his mother was not paying adequate attention to him, the little boy blurted out, "Mom, you’re not listening to me!"

I then observed a very interesting thing. The wise mother continued to respond and talk to her son in the same calm tones, never raising her voice. Eventually the little boy was able to hear his mom’s voice in spite of the engine and other noises on the plane. The mother’s voice did not change; rather, the little boy’s ability to hear her voice in the midst of the noise increased. It took some time, but the little boy learned how to block out the distracting noises around him and focus upon the familiar voice of his mother.

Brothers and sisters, as we desire and invite the Holy Ghost into our lives and learn to heed simple promptings quickly, we too can block out the distracting noises of the world and clearly focus upon the promptings of the Holy Ghost. In the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants the Savior describes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as ". . . the only true and living Church upon the face of the whole earth . . ." (D&C 1:30). It is the Holy Ghost and its attendant spiritual gifts that make this Church living. And may each of us become a living member of this living Church by living in such a way that the Holy Ghost can be our constant companion.

Brothers and sisters, the doctrines and principles I have discussed today are true. I testify and witness that God the Eternal Father and His Beloved Son live. I know the Holy Ghost is real and will be our constant companion if we allow Him to be. I know the fullness of the gospel was restored to the earth in these latter days through the Prophet Joseph Smith. And I know that President Gordon B. Hinckley is the Lord’s prophet on the earth today. Of which I testify and declare my witness in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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