Hearing the Still, Small Voice


Those who look only for “cloven tongues of fire” may not recognize the Spirit when it pricks their hearts.

The Bible tells us that while the Twelve Apostles were gathered together on the day of Pentecost, “suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2–4).

At this time, many devout Jews “out of every nation under heaven” were dwelling in Jerusalem (see Acts 2:5). As they gathered in response to news of the Spirit’s outpouring, they were amazed to hear the Apostles speaking to them in their respective languages. “What meaneth this?” they asked (Acts 2:12).

The Apostle Peter, with the eleven at his side, stood and declared mightily unto the multitude that what they beheld was a manifestation of the Spirit. He then bore testimony of Jesus Christ and of his Crucifixion and Resurrection.

“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

Peter told the multitude to repent and be baptized. And then, he said, “ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).

This New Testament account illustrates two of many ways in which the power of the Holy Ghost may be manifested: in the first instance, through the miracle of a “rushing mighty wind” and “cloven tongues”; in the second, through the subtle spiritual “pricking” of hearts.

As members of the Church, we can have the Holy Ghost as our personal guide if we live worthily. I have learned that for me the promptings of the Holy Ghost most often come in subtle ways similar to how the promptings came to those who heard Peter’s testimony. Those who look only for “cloven tongues of fire” may not recognize the Spirit when it pricks their hearts.

One morning I was busy calling people and organizing things in preparation for a Church activity. For some reason my toddler, Jordan, seemed especially cross. I tried to keep him entertained with toys and puzzles, but he became more demanding—constantly clinging to me as I hurriedly went about tasks I felt were important. Finally I put him in his room and told him to stay there until he could behave.

It wasn’t long before Jordan proceeded to have a tantrum. At first I ignored him, but soon I had heard enough. As I stormed through the house on the way to his room, a message entered my heart reminding me to be gentle.

Despite my frustration, my heart was pricked. When I entered his room I scooped him into my arms. We hugged, talked, then read together. The rest of the day he was quite content. He just needed a few minutes of my time, while I needed a gentle reminder to put my priorities back in order.

The Book of Mormon contains many insights into the workings of the Holy Ghost. One example is the conversion of a powerful Lamanite king (see Alma 22). After establishing a church in the land of Ishmael—which was ruled by the king’s son, Lamoni—Ammon traveled with Lamoni to the city of Middoni, where his brethren were imprisoned. On the way, they met Lamoni’s father, who had a hatred toward Nephites and tried to kill Ammon. But Ammon overpowered the king, who, in pleading for his life, promised Ammon anything he asked, “even to half of the kingdom” (Alma 20:23). Ammon merely asked that his brethren be released from prison and that Lamoni be allowed to retain his kingdom.

After their release, Ammon’s brethren were led by the Spirit to the king’s house in the land of Nephi. When they volunteered to be the king’s servants, the king replied: “I will not suffer that ye shall be my servants; but I will insist that ye shall administer unto me; for I have been somewhat troubled in mind because of the generosity and the greatness of the words of thy brother Ammon” (Alma 22:3; emphasis added).

When our minds are troubled about something we have heard or said, or about something we have done or left undone, often it is because the Holy Ghost is prodding us to set things right.

I remember a particular argument I had with my sister that left me troubled all night long, even though I felt I was in the right. By the next morning I realized how unloving I had been, and I knew I needed to apologize. But I let half the day pass in strained silence before speaking healing words to my sister. Immediately afterward, my mind was at peace.

The Holy Ghost can be a powerful guide in helping us deal with family relationships. When I lost patience with my 13-year-old son one night, I began yelling at him. He responded by standing rigidly quiet, staring at me with fire in his eyes. A feeling of regret came over me, and I hurried to my room where I could be by myself and think about my behavior.

I had always been quick to anger. And though I had made improvement in fighting that fault, at that instant I understood through the whisperings of the Spirit that I must conquer my temper if I wished to maintain a loving relationship with my son. I had knelt in prayer many times before to seek guidance in overcoming my temper, but this time as I prayed I realized that controlling my temper meant relying on help from the Holy Ghost. The challenge was for me to have the Holy Ghost with me every day. I have sought for this blessing in three ways.

First, I have found that the Spirit’s presence in my life is predicated upon my behavior. I realize that I must strive to do the will of the Lord, making sure my heart is right before the Lord.

Second, I have learned to rely on personal prayer morning and night. In my prayers I talk specifically about my goals and ask for the Holy Ghost’s help in achieving them. I have discovered that Heavenly Father desires to give me many blessings but that I must first humble myself and discuss those blessings in earnest prayer. As his children, we must “enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, [for] it will show unto [us] all things what [we] should do” (2 Ne. 32:5).

Third, I have found that daily scripture study invites the Holy Ghost into my life. I have discovered this to be true even if I read for only a few minutes each day. As I open the scriptures, my heart seems to open as well to the influence of the “still small voice” (1 Ne. 17:45; see also 2 Ne. 32:3).

I still struggle with my temper and with my other weaknesses. But the good days seem to come more often as I try to live worthily of the Spirit’s influence in my life and as I seek not “cloven tongues of fire” but the Spirit’s subtle prick of my heart.

[illustration] Illustrated by Keith Larson

Diana Dunkley serves as Primary chorister and ward choir director in the Pleasant View Sixth Ward, Pleasant View Utah Stake.