It is a privilege to meet with you in this devotional. I have prayed that the Lord will bless you to hear something that will help increase your ability to recognize the voice of the Spirit. You might have already received a message you felt was just for you in the beautiful music we have heard.
About 41 years ago I reluctantly attended a devotional for young adults held on Temple Square. The huge snowstorm we had received the afternoon of the devotional tested my faith. But because I had been asked to participate in a small way, I went to fulfill my duty. I have learned over the years that something President Eyring shared is true: “A person cannot give a crust to the Lord without receiving a loaf in return.”1 My wonderful husband is the “loaf” I received for my “crust” of participation! It was at that devotional that I met him. He was singing in the choir and courageously came up and introduced himself to me at the end of the meeting. How grateful I am that I felt duty-bound to attend that night and that our merciful Heavenly Father accepted even my reluctant effort to be where I needed to be.
I am grateful to have some of our children and our oldest granddaughter here with us tonight. McKaela plays the viola. At age 3 she started violin lessons, and now, at age 16, she is quite a gifted musician. I can say that because I’m her grandma, and grandmas don’t lie! It has been inspiring to watch her progress step by step, learning to use her instrument not only to bless her own life but also the lives of many others. She has learned the art of tuning her instrument; the importance of daily, diligent practice; and the joy of performing and blending her instrument with others.
While serving a mission with my husband a few years ago, I learned to read the symbols and say the sounds of the Korean alphabet. I learned some basic greetings, a couple expressions, and a few gospel terms, and I could distinguish the Korean language from other languages. I memorized a few of my favorite hymns and Primary songs in Korean. But I was very limited in my ability to speak or understand most of that beautiful language.
Why do I share these seemingly unrelated examples with you? Because I would like us to discuss learning the language of the Spirit—how He speaks to us and how we can increase our ability to hear His voice. Just as learning an instrument or a language is a process, learning the language of the Spirit is also a process, one that is vital for each of us to learn, whether we are recently baptized or long-time members of the Church.
The Savior taught in the Book of Mormon that the Lamanites “were baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.”2 It is my deep desire that we will increase in our ability to hear and understand the promptings of the Spirit and act on the promptings that we get from the Holy Ghost. In order to do so, we must first learn to recognize His voice.
Let’s take a minute to assess our experience. Now, because our audience here is large and we are also joined by young adults all over the world, I’d like to invite you to do something. Without being too personal, would you share some of your experiences to the following questions with each other on Twitter? When you have a moment, “tweet” your response to #cesdevo.
Here’s the question for your response: How can we know if we have heard the voice of the Spirit?
We might ask ourselves a few additional questions as we ponder this question:
Have I experienced feelings of love, joy, peace, patience, meekness, gentleness, faith, hope, and comfort?
Have ideas come to my mind, or feelings to my heart, that I know are from the Lord and not from me?
Have I heard my voice speaking truth without having planned what I would say?
Have I experienced a magnification of my own skills and abilities?
Have I felt guidance and protection from deception?
Have I recognized sin in my life and had the desire to correct it?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you have felt the Spirit of the Lord at some time in your life. But the most important question is “Can ye feel so now?”4
The prophet Mormon’s counsel about following the Light of Christ can help us know how to receive the Holy Ghost. Mormon said:
“For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
“But 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.”5
President Gordon B. Hinckley observed: “That’s the test, when all is said and done. Does it persuade one to do good, to rise, to stand tall, to do the right thing, to be kind, to be generous? Then it is of the Spirit of God.”6
Why does discerning the whisperings of the Spirit seem so difficult? Perhaps one reason is that the Spirit communicates both to our minds and to our hearts. In learning the language of the Spirit, we sometimes confuse our own thoughts and our own emotions with the promptings of the Spirit. Another reason is that discerning the Spirit is a gift of the Spirit. Just as learning a language comes easily to some and not to others, so does the ability to understand the whisperings of the Spirit. Most often, learning an instrument or language takes a great deal of effort, including practicing and sometimes making mistakes. So it is with the process of learning the language of the Spirit.
Would it help you to know that personal revelation is a line-upon-line, precept-upon-precept process that even prophets, seers, and revelators have to learn to understand? The following is an example from the life of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
“There are times when the only way to get from A to C is by way of B.
“Having grown up in southern Utah and enjoying all the wonders and beauties of southern Utah and northern Arizona, I wanted to introduce my son to that and I wanted to show him places that I had seen and enjoyed when I was his age. So, his mother packed a little lunch for us, and we took his grandfather’s pickup truck and headed south onto what we call the old Arizona Strip.
“Noting that the sun was going down, we decided that we’d better get back. But we came back to a particular fork in the road, really the only one that at that point was absolutely unrecognizable. I asked my son to pray about which road to take, and he felt strongly that we should go to the right, and I did as well. And we went to the right, and it was a dead end. We went four or five or six hundred yards and it was an absolute dead end, clearly the wrong road.
“Turned around, came back out, took the other road. And clearly the road to the left was the correct road.
“Somewhere along the way, Matt said, ‘Dad, why did we feel, after praying about it, that the right road was the proper one to take, the correct one to take, and it wasn’t?’ And I said, ‘I think that the Lord, His wish for us there and His answer to our prayer was to get us on the right road as quickly as possible with some reassurance, with some understanding that we were on the right road and we didn’t have to worry about it. And in this case, the easiest way to do that was to let us go 400 yards or 500 yards on the wrong road and very quickly know without a doubt that it was the wrong road and, therefore, with equal certainty, with equal conviction that the other one was the right road.’
“I have absolute certain knowledge, perfect knowledge that God loves us. He is good. He is our Father and He expects us to pray and trust and be believing and not give up and not panic and not retreat and not jump ship when something doesn’t seem to be going just right. We stay in, we keep working, we keep believing, keep trusting, following that same path, and we will live to fall in His arms and feel His embrace and hear Him say, ‘I told you it’d be OK, I told you it’d be all right.’”7
I had an experience similar to Elder Holland’s as I prepared to speak tonight. I had started down one path, researching and writing my thoughts on one subject to speak about, only to feel unsettled about it. I had a feeling there was something else I should address instead. It was then that I remembered an experience I had about two years ago. When I was first called to serve as the Relief Society general president, I had some very sleepless nights. During one of those nights, many thoughts flooded my mind and pressed themselves upon my heart. I recorded them and filed them away, not remembering them again until just a few weeks ago, when those uneasy feelings about my first subject began to trouble me. Heavenly Father let me go down the other road for some time, but He led me back to this road through a gentle feeling in my heart and an awakened memory in my mind through the gift of the Holy Ghost.
What can we do to better tune in to the voice of the Spirit? We can begin by recognizing that our Father in Heaven wants to communicate with us. We know this because all latter-day prophets have taught the doctrine of personal revelation. Think of the many other blessings the Lord has given us in order that we might communicate with Him and receive His words: scriptures, patriarchal blessings, prayer, ordinances, inspired leaders and parents, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Where do we start in our quest to draw closer to God and to hear His voice speaking to us? We begin with the basics. We do the small and simple things that demonstrate that He is first in our lives and that we want to receive revelation from Him. When I visited West Africa, I learned a phrase I love that seems applicable to the process of personal revelation: “slowly by slowly, small by small.” What are some of those “slowly by slowly, small by small” things we can do?
Number 1: Sincerely and humbly pray.
My mother heart has been touched throughout the years as I have watched my own children and grandchildren exercise faith by asking in humble and sincere prayer for the Lord’s help with their simple problems. A tender memory in our family illustrates this.
Our son is the oldest child in our family. He has five sisters and no brothers. Just before the birth of our third daughter, my husband promised our son a dog if this baby was another girl. When our baby girl was born, my good husband kept his promise. The dog became our son’s best friend. He loved that dog. But one day, the dog got lost. We searched and searched, but to no avail. We called the animal control officer. He didn’t give us much hope since we lived fairly close to the freeway. The officer felt that enough time had gone by that there was a good possibility that the dog had made its way to the freeway and been hit by a car.
We did our best to console our son when we shared what we had heard, but he was devastated. I remember inviting him to pray to Heavenly Father for comfort. Our sweet little boy looked me in the eye and said, “I’ve been praying and praying, Mom.”
A couple of days went by. Then early one morning there was a knock at our door. One of the children answered the door and came running to get me. I was concerned as I noticed a car parked in our driveway with the words “Animal Control” written on the side. The man at the door looked at me and said, “Mrs. Burton, I think I have something in my car that belongs to your son.”
My heart sank. I remember worrying that he had picked up our dog and that the dog might be dead or terribly injured. To my great delight, there was our dog in the back of the car—lively, well, and ready to bound out of the car and into the arms of our little boy.
I asked the animal control officer where he had found our dog. He said: “The most unusual thing happened this morning as I was leaving home. There, right in front of my house, was a dog that fit the description you had given me on the phone. The dog responded when I called her name. So I thought I’d bring her home and put your little boy’s mind at ease before he left for school.”
I know that the Lord answers sincere, tender, childlike prayers. Heavenly Father wants children to know He is there early in their lives so they will continue to trust in Him as they grow to maturity. Because children are generally filled with humility, they qualify to receive Heavenly Father’s promise as given in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.”8
As I share the following questions that President Spencer W. Kimball asked a group similar to this, consider your own humility and the sincerity of your own prayers: “Do you want guidance? Have you prayed to the Lord for inspiration? Do you want to do right or do you want to do what you want to do whether or not it is right? Do you want to do what is best for you in the long run or what seems more desirable for the moment? Have you prayed? How much have you prayed? How did you pray? Have you prayed as did the Savior … or did you ask for what you want regardless of its being proper?”
President Kimball then continued: “Do you say in your prayers: ‘Thy will be done’? Did you say, ‘Heavenly Father, if you will inspire and impress me with the right, I will do that right’? … Did you say, ‘Father in Heaven, I love you, I believe in you, I know you are omniscient. I am honest. I am sincerely desirous of doing right. I know you can see the end from the beginning. You can see the future. You can discern if under this situation I present, I will have peace or turmoil, happiness or sorrow, success or failure. Tell me, please, loved Heavenly Father, and I promise to do what you tell me to do.’ Have you prayed that way? Don’t you think it might be wise? Are you courageous enough to pray that prayer?”9
One way to pray sincerely is to learn to formulate sincere and heartfelt questions and humbly take them to the Lord. Consider Joseph Smith’s questions: “What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?”10 Wisely, he turned to the scriptures, a source of divine truth, which caused him “serious reflection” and led him to “the determination to ‘ask of God,’”11 believing his prayer would be answered.
To pray sincerely means we intend to act on the answer we receive. Of his fervent prayer in the Sacred Grove, Joseph recounted, “My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join.”12 It is clear that Joseph had the intent to act on whatever it was the Lord chose to reveal to him. However, before he even asked his simple question, he received much more than what he had ever hoped for. He was given the remarkable privilege of seeing our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ! I rejoice in this glorious answer to a simple and sincere desire for knowledge by the boy prophet, Joseph Smith!
Number 2: Act promptly on spiritual impressions.
A sobering incident from the life of our own beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, illustrates the vital importance of responding promptly to impressions from the Spirit.
“[Narrator:] As Bishop Monson matured in his responsibilities, he learned many lessons, among them the importance of following the Spirit and trusting in the Lord.
“One night during a stake priesthood leadership meeting, he had the distinct impression that he should leave the meeting immediately and drive to the veteran’s hospital high on the Avenues of Salt Lake City. Before leaving home that night, he had received a phone call informing him that an older member of his ward was ill and had been admitted to the hospital for care. Could the bishop, the caller asked, find a moment to go by the hospital and give a blessing? The busy young bishop explained he was just on his way to a meeting but he would certainly go by the hospital afterward. Now the prompting was stronger than ever: ‘Leave the meeting and proceed to the hospital at once.’
“Bishop Monson looked at the pulpit. The stake president was speaking! He didn’t see how he could stand in the middle of his talk and make his way over an entire row of men. Painfully, he waited out the final moments of the stake president’s message then bolted for the door even before the benediction was announced. Running the full length of the corridor on the fourth floor of the hospital, the young bishop saw a flurry of activity outside the designated room.
“A nurse stopped and said, ‘Are you Bishop Monson?’
“‘Yes,’ he replied.
“‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘The patient was calling your name just before he died.’
“Fighting back tears, Bishop Monson walked back into the night. He vowed at that moment that he would never fail to act upon a prompting from the Lord. He would immediately follow the impressions of the Spirit wherever they led him.”
“[Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:] No one can understand President Thomas S. Monson who does not understand the frequency, the repetition of those kinds of spiritual promptings in his life and his absolute loyalty in responding to them.”13
Number 3: Search the scriptures daily.
When I was 20 years old, I was wrestling with a difficult decision and could not seem to get an answer to my prayers. One night my father came home late from a Church meeting and noticed my bedroom light was on. He sat at the edge of my bed and asked if he could help, sensing my struggle. I poured out my heart to him. He suggested that I turn to the scriptures to guide my decision, offering specific passages that I might ponder and pray about. I followed his inspired counsel and searched the scriptures. After some time and continued earnest effort, I was blessed with an unmistakable answer to my prayer. I had offered my best thinking and decision to the Lord and sincerely asked for a confirmation of that decision and felt a quiet, peaceful assurance deep in my heart.
We learn in the scriptures that Helaman’s righteous sons, Lehi and Nephi, had “many revelations daily.”15 As we feast daily upon the words of Christ in the scriptures and ponder the things we read, we too can experience daily revelations through the gift of the Holy Ghost, especially as we carefully record thoughts and feelings we receive.
Number 4: Live the law of the fast.
In order to increase our ability to hear the voice of the Spirit, we would all do well to fast for 24 hours each fast Sunday and freely give our fast offering to help those in need. President Harold B. Lee counseled: “The Lord said to Isaiah, that those who would thus fast and deal out their bread to the hungry, could call and the Lord would answer, could cry and the Lord would say, ‘Here I am.’ [See Isaiah 58:6–9.] That’s one way to get on speaking terms with the Lord. Try it this year. Live the law of fasting perfectly.”16
In the book of Alma, we learn that the sons of Mosiah “had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.”17 That phrase “had given themselves” is a thought to ponder as we evaluate our efforts to truly fast.
Number 5: Be worthy and worship in the temple.
According to President George Albert Smith, “Each of us is entitled to the inspiration of the Lord in proportion to the manner in which we live a godly life.”18 Please notice that he didn’t say we have to be perfect to receive inspiration. But we do need to give our best efforts to living worthily.
Remember and learn from the negative example of King Limhi’s people in the Book of Mormon: “The Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities.”19
Worthiness seems to be a small price to pay in order to open the windows of heaven. As we keep our covenants and worthily partake of the sacrament, we are promised that we will always have the Spirit to be with us.20 But that comes after we promise and keep the covenant that we will always remember the Savior! Additionally, focusing on and living worthy to enter the temple, and doing so as frequently as our circumstances allow, enables us to “grow up in [the Lord], and receive a fulness of the Holy Ghost.”21
Number 6: “Trifle not with sacred things.” 22
Recognize that revelation from the Lord is a sacred trust. Elder Richard G. Scott taught that “inspiration carefully recorded shows God that His communications are sacred to us. … Such recording … should be protected from loss or intrusion by others.”23
A second witness to that teaching comes from the experience of President Harold B. Lee, who said: “Sometimes in the middle of the night I’ve been awakened and am unable to sleep until I’ve gotten out of bed and put down on paper the thing that I have been wrestling with. But it takes a lot of courage to act when directed as an answer to prayers.”24
Number 7: Be prepared to move forward in faith.
When my husband and I were engaged to be married, we had lengthy discussions about our future together. What should we do about school? When should we have children? What career would provide for the needs of our family and allow us to serve in the Church? Because we believed in the counsel given by a living prophet who taught that we could have children while we were getting an education and work all at the same time, we moved forward in faith.
It wasn’t easy. My husband ended up working three part-time jobs while he was going to school to allow me to begin my new career as a mother and nurturer. That course was in direct opposition to the logic of the world, even at that time. Looking back, we now see how taking those steps of faith has resulted in eternal blessings, blessings we might have forfeited had we not heeded the voice of the Spirit through the Lord’s chosen prophet.
To further illustrate, consider the experience of Elder Robert D. Hales. He was assigned to be the junior companion to President Ezra Taft Benson at a stake conference in which a new stake president was to be called. He relates the following: “After praying, interviewing, studying, and praying again, Elder Benson asked if I knew who the new president would be. I said I had not received that inspiration yet. He looked at me for a long time and replied he hadn’t either. However, we were inspired to ask three worthy priesthood holders to speak in the Saturday evening session of conference. Moments after the third speaker began, the Spirit prompted me that he should be the new stake president. I looked over at President Benson and saw tears streaming down his face. Revelation had been given to both of us—but only by continuing to seek our Heavenly Father’s will as we moved forward in faith.”25
Number 8: Let the Lord decide the details of what He chooses to reveal and when He chooses to reveal it.
Author Corrie ten Boom’s observation seems applicable here: “Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for a future that only He can see.”26
Perhaps some of you have had a similar experience to that which our six children have had as they have searched for worthy eternal companions. Because hindsight is 20/20, they can now see that they each needed to have certain experiences in order to be able to recognize the Lord’s hand leading them to their eternal companions. Some of those experiences required years of patiently waiting and moving forward in faith. At times the heavens even seemed closed to them as they prayed. When the Lord’s timing conflicts with our own desires, trust that there might be some preparatory experiences the Lord needs us to have before our prayers are answered.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:
“We should recognize that the Lord will speak to us through the Spirit in his own time and in his own way. Many people do not understand this principle. They believe that when they are ready and when it suits their convenience, they can call upon the Lord and He will immediately respond, even in the precise way they have prescribed. Revelation does not come that way. …
“… We cannot force spiritual things.”27
About 15 years ago my mother lost her sight. She struggled for months over this difficult trial. She found comfort as she prayed fervently for understanding in a simple poem that has become a favorite. It was recently quoted by President Monson.
I know not by what methods rare,
But this I know, God answers prayer.
I know that He has given His Word,
Which tells me prayer is always heard,
And will be answered, soon or late.
And so I pray and calmly wait.
I know not if the blessing sought
Will come in just the way I thought;
But leave my prayers with Him alone,
Whose will is wiser than my own,
Assured that He will grant my quest,
Or send some answer far more blest.28
Like most of us, my mother is still seeking to put her trust in His will and His timing. As we do so, we should remember this teaching from Elder Richard G. Scott: “What do you do when you have prepared carefully, have prayed fervently, waited a reasonable time for a response, and still do not feel an answer? You may want to express thanks when that occurs, for it is an evidence of [Heavenly Father’s] trust. When you are living worthily and your choice is consistent with the Savior’s teachings and you need to act, proceed with trust. As you are sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit, one of two things will certainly occur at the appropriate time: either the stupor of thought will come, indicating an improper choice, or the peace or the burning in the bosom will be felt, confirming that your choice was correct. When you are living righteously and are acting with trust, God will not let you proceed too far without a warning impression if you have made the wrong decision.”29
That warning voice of the Spirit often comes through the voice of the Lord’s chosen servants, which brings us to our next point.
Number 9: Heed prophetic warnings.
Consider carefully a few prophetic warnings given in our day. First, a few from President Boyd K. Packer.
“Now a warning! Some music is spiritually very destructive. … The tempo, the sounds, and the lifestyle of those who perform it repel the Spirit. It is far more dangerous than you may suppose, for it can smother your spiritual senses.”
“There can be counterfeit revelations, promptings from the devil, temptations! …
“If ever you receive a prompting to do something that makes you feel uneasy, something you know in your mind to be wrong and contrary to the principles of righteousness, do not respond to it!”
And here’s another: “If one becomes critical and harbors negative feelings, the Spirit will withdraw.”30
Why tune our hearts to the voice of the Spirit? What blessings come as we do so?
I have just returned from the Philippines, where I have seen the aftermath of the super typhoon Haiyan. I heard the experiences of our beloved brothers and sisters in the Philippines as they testified of being guided by the Spirit in the very moment of need so they knew what to do and where to go. I heard them tell of moving forward in faith at times when the path was not clear. I heard stories of young missionaries, sisters and elders alike, following promptings that led them to physical safety in the midst of a world falling apart all around them. How grateful I am for “the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost,”32 which warns, directs, comforts, and guides those who seek to live worthily.
Of all the gifts our Heavenly Father could have chosen to bestow on His sons and daughters as we leave the waters of baptism, He chose to give us the gift of the Holy Ghost.
“The Holy Ghost works in perfect unity with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. …
“He ‘witnesses of the Father and the Son’ (2 Nephi 31:18) and reveals and teaches ‘the truth of all things’ (Moroni 10:5). We can receive a sure testimony of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ only by the power of the Holy Ghost. His communication to our spirit carries far more certainty than any communication we can receive through our natural senses.”33
Brothers and sisters, as you are well aware, the great and spacious building, filled with those who mock and ridicule and point fingers of scorn, is all around us. The voice of the world is loud, unrelenting, persuasive, and persistent. Unless we learn to tune our hearts to the voice of the Spirit and refine our ability to seek, receive, and act on personal revelation, we are on shaky ground at best. We need the voice of the Spirit to guide us away from all that is filthy, foolish, vulgar, violent, selfish, and sinful. We need the Holy Ghost not only to lead us to everything that is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy”34 but to help us cultivate a desire for those things in order to resist the pull of the world.
One of the best blessings we can receive as we learn to hear the voice of the Spirit is the ability to see ourselves as we are seen by our Father in Heaven and, “slowly by slowly, small by small,” become our very best selves.
Consider this beautiful quote from a latter-day Apostle: “The gift of the Holy Spirit … quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It develops and invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, invigorates and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.”35
The Holy Ghost can do for us physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and intellectually what no man-made remedy can begin to duplicate.
Wouldn’t you agree that living worthy of such blessings is worth whatever it takes, even if it requires a significant sacrifice? It is the “loaf” we receive for our comparative “crust” of effort. I invite all of us to begin tonight to tune our heart to the voice of the Holy Ghost.
It is no coincidence that the Lord has raised up President Thomas S. Monson as His living prophet to guide us in these latter days. President Monson is one who has learned well to hear and respond to the promptings of the Spirit. We would do well to follow his example.
I testify that he is the spokesman for the Lord in our day. I also testify that our Father in Heaven wants us to return to His presence and has provided the means for us to do so by giving His Only Begotten Son and the gift of the Holy Ghost. I testify it is worth every effort on our part to obtain and retain that unspeakable gift, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2014 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 1/14. PD10050686