The Holy Ghost: A Stranger, Visitor, or Constant Companion?


I was sitting in the bishop’s office participating in one of those special occasions when we receive strength and blessings through the priesthood. I was being set apart as Laurel adviser in my ward. Many of the things that were said at that time I have since forgotten, but one thing made a particularly deep impression on me. The counselor who was setting me apart admonished me to work toward receiving the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. When he spoke those words, there was a burning within me, and the wisdom of his counsel was impressed upon me.

I had often heard Church leaders speak about the necessity of having the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and I had tried at different times to make the influence of the Spirit an integral part of my life. But discouragement would come easily, and I always felt that I had never quite succeeded. Frustrated, I would reason away my failure with the notion that the companionship of the Holy Ghost must be for the General Authorities and their families. I felt that as long as I lived a “good” life, someday in the distant future I might qualify for that blessing.

How easy it is to deceive ourselves with excuses when a task is not simple. But no excuses came to me on that day in the bishop’s office. As I was counseled by a servant of the Lord to obtain the guidance of the Holy Ghost, I knew that the Lord was reminding me of something he had admonished me to do years before when I was baptized. All of us, when we are confirmed after baptism, have hands placed on our heads and are told by a representative of the Lord, “Receive the Holy Ghost.” All the rationalizing in the world cannot erase this invitation and commandment.

We have been told in this dispensation, as well as in times past, the importance of receiving the Holy Ghost. President Wilford Woodruff expressed it clearly at a stake conference in 1896:

“Now, I have always said, and I want to say it to you, that the Holy Ghost is what every Saint of God needs. … Every man and woman in this Church should labor to get that Spirit. … This is the Spirit that we must have to carry out the purposes of God on the earth. We need that more than any other gift. … We should pray to the Lord until we get the Comforter. This is what is promised to us when we are baptized. It is the spirit of light, of truth, and of revelation, and can be with all of us at the same time.” (Deseret Weekly, 7 Nov. 1896, pp. 641–43.)

The gift of the Holy Ghost is not restricted to either men or women; nor is it restricted to the General Authorities. It is available to all of us as long as we obey the commandments of God. With this gift we can experience for ourselves direction, inspiration, comfort, wisdom, strength, and testimony every day. In other words, we can receive revelation. We are told by the Prophet Joseph Smith that “no man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator.” (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6:58.)

What are some of the ways in which the revelations of the Holy Ghost can help us?

Guidance in Our Individual Progression

Parley P. Pratt, a member of the original Quorum of the Twelve in this dispensation, has written: “An intelligent being, in the image of God, possesses every organ, attribute, sense, sympathy, affection that is possessed by God Himself.

“But these … attributes are in embryo; and are to be gradually developed. …

“The gift of the Holy Ghost adapts itself to all these organs or attributes. It 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 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 invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, 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.” (Key to the Science of Theology, 10th ed., Deseret Book Co., 1965, pp. 100–101.)

All of us face the daily struggle of trying to improve ourselves and become more godlike. We have the desire to become perfect, and yet it sometimes appears to be such an ominous and impossible thing. The Holy Ghost is indispensable to us in this struggle. And so it is that in the struggle to perfect our lives, we seek for the gifts that will strengthen us and guide us in our quest for perfection.

One way, for example, that the Holy Ghost has been of help to me in my individual progression is by making me aware of my imperfections. When I pray for the guidance of the Spirit before reading scriptures, passages that relate to particular areas in which I need improvement seem to stand out. As I read them I am filled with the desire to do better. The Holy Ghost, besides bringing this information to our knowledge, can also grant us other spiritual gifts to help us in accomplishing our goals.

Guidance in Rearing Our Children

When parents are trying to rear a family, each day brings a hundred decisions, large and small. Some of these decisions play a more important role in shaping the lives of our children and naturally concern us more. While the Lord has instructed us to use our own wisdom and to search for the answers to our problems, he has not left us alone. He has provided a means whereby we may know if the decisions we come to are the proper ones. Through the guidance of the Holy Ghost, parents can be directed into the most effective means of working with their children and may receive promptings in their behalf.

As a coed, I recall coming home one weekend from college with the intention of spending the weekend with the family of a fellow I had been dating. I explained my plans to my father and went about making the necessary arrangements. An hour or so later, my father came to me and told me that he didn’t want me to go. I was terribly disappointed and wanted to know why. His reply was that he didn’t know why, but he had felt prompted that I should remain at home. I followed his counsel, and although I do not know what problems or difficulties were averted by my not going, I do know that we can receive inspiration regarding our children. This knowledge is a great source of comfort and strength to me as I am now faced with the challenge of rearing my own children.

We can be guided, not only in times of crisis, but also on a day-to-day basis. We may receive on-the-spot guidance in little matters such as how to help a three-year-old cope with the frustrations of learning to tie his shoes, or perhaps in resolving conflicts between brothers and sisters. The ideas we receive may often seem so natural that we may not think of them as inspiration, but if we respond, we will see a change take place in our homes. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” (Gal. 5:22–23.) What better traits could we bring into our homes and families? Just think what a positive effect they could have!

Guidance in Our Church Callings

We know that we are all entitled to revelation in and about our specific Church callings, whether we are Primary president or home teacher or General Authority. And not only are we entitled to this revelation, but we also have a responsibility to actively seek it and be led by it in our callings.

Many times while serving in different callings, I have had ideas come to me that I recognized as inspiration. Some come after much thought and prayer, and some seemingly “out of the blue.” There are other times, however, when the answers are not clear; but as we strive to do our best, our ability to recognize these promptings increases. Think of the things we could accomplish in our Church callings by refining our ability to receive this guidance, receiving the knowledge of what the Lord wants us to do and having the courage to do it.

How We Obtain His Companionship

It becomes apparent, after searching the scriptures, that in order to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost our lives must be in conformance with gospel standards, for “the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples.” (Hel. 4:24.) President Harold B. Lee has said, “The key to success in this regard is humility of spirit whereby one seeks to live in accordance with the eternal perspective of an everlasting life and the earnest effort to know the will of the Lord.” (Conference Reports, Oct. 1946, p. 146; italics added.)

An “earnest effort to know the will of the Lord” reminds us of Nephi’s exhortation to diligently seek the Holy Ghost. (See 1 Ne. 10:17.) We have to desire the Holy Ghost and make that desire manifest through earnest prayer and supplication. “And it shall come to pass, that if you shall ask the Father in my name, in faith believing, you shall receive the Holy Ghost.” (D&C 14:8; italics added.)

Once we have done these things—having lived according to gospel standards, prayed diligently, exercised faith, and received guidance from the Holy Ghost—the scriptures point out that our job is not yet done. We must then listen to the promptings of the Holy Ghost, the “still small voice” that may come naturally as a thought or impression. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “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 … ; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 151.)

I had an experience that illustrates this concept. While I was serving as Relief Society president in our ward, my husband was asked to serve as elders quorum group leader while the quorum president was gone for the summer. When we received word that the quorum president would not be returning, we discussed the possibility of my husband filling this position. We disregarded it, however, feeling that both of us filling such demanding and time-consuming jobs would be too hard on our three preschoolers.

But still I felt the inclination to pray about it. One night as I was praying the thought came clearly into my mind that if the Lord called my husband to this position, we were to recognize it as an indication to us that He felt it was possible for us to handle the assignment. If we would be wise in our planning, our children would not suffer. When my husband was called by the stake president and sustained to this position the next week, I saw the fulfillment of the promptings I had received. Prior to being called, my husband had also received witness from the Holy Ghost that this was the position he was to fill at this time.

We must be teachable and open to the whisperings of the Spirit—something that improves with practice. We must become accustomed to listening to the Spirit in little daily matters as well as larger ones. Such instruction about little things may come to us line upon line, precept upon precept, for the Holy Ghost reveals to us only that amount which we are able to accept.

My husband had to drive out of state on business one night. It was not a long drive, and he anticipated arriving about 7:00 P.M. He left, saying he would call when he got there. By eight o’clock I was starting to worry, and by ten I was getting increasingly upset. I would try, off and on, to get some sleep; but by 2:00 A.M. I knew that I needed the comfort of the Holy Ghost. I knelt, unable to sleep, almost sick with fear, and prayed for the Holy Ghost to comfort me and give me a sense of peace if everything was all right. Twice during the night I had this sense of calm for a few minutes, but I rationalized it away, being unaccustomed to listening to that kind of spiritual prompting. I ignored the feelings I had because I felt that logically, if everything were all right, he would find some way to get in touch with me. The next morning I was able to locate him and found out that he was fine; my usually considerate husband had simply forgotten to call. How much less painful that night would have been if I had accepted the whisperings of the Spirit and not rejected them.

Once we have learned to listen and to recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost, there is one more thing we must do: We must act upon those promptings. Once we know the Lord’s will, it is important that we do not procrastinate our obedience out of neglect or fear. Sometimes it will take courage to follow through on these whisperings, and sometimes it will just take diligence in not putting them off. If we are prompted by the Lord to get Sister Jones involved in some activity or to go visit Brother Smith to see if something is troubling him, we must follow that prompting. The time may never be as ideal again for us to be of service to them.

If we will put our lives in order, pray in faith, study out our needs in our minds, listen to the promptings of the Spirit and act upon them, we can be assured of the daily guidance we have been promised, as fast as we are able to accept it and profit by it.

The Doctrine and Covenants speaks of a state of character and spiritual progress where one may have the Holy Ghost as a “constant companion.” (D&C 121:46.)

As we look at our own relationships with the Holy Ghost, what do we find? A stranger, a visitor—or our constant companion?

[photo] Photography by Craig Law

Coleen Baird, a homemaker, serves as second counselor in the Boston Massachusetts Stake Primary presidency. She resides in the Cambridge First Ward.