Gifts of the Spirit


Robert D. Hales
Spiritual gifts are given as a blessing and benefit for those who love God and keep His commandments.

The phrase “return with honor” is a very clear description of the purpose of life here in our mortal probation. In our premortal state in heaven, we lived in the presence of God the Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost.

Our goal in coming to this mortal probation is to “return with honor” back into the presence of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost eternally. This is called eternal life. Eternal life is our goal at the end of our sojourn on earth.

After birth one of the most significant events in our life is baptism. The prophet Nephi describes baptism as a gate that we enter, after the gift of faith and repentance, to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. After entering the gate of baptism, we begin traveling a straight and narrow path that we remain on through our obedience, and that, if we endure to the end, leads us to eternal life (see 2 Ne. 31:17–21).

I’d like to discuss the role of the gifts of the Spirit that will help each of us achieve our goal of eternal life.

What Are Gifts of the Spirit?

These gifts of the Spirit are encompassed by the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is the third member of the eternal Godhead and is identified as the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit is a gift from God to help us make the decisions that will allow us to find and fulfill our mission. These gifts were part of the ministry of the early prophets and were well known by the Apostles of the New Testament. Paul writes in the First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 12:4–10):

“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

“And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.

“And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

“For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

“To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;

“To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues.”

In these latter days, an understanding of the gifts of the Spirit has been given to us by revelation as recorded in section 46 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 46 identifies specific gifts of the Spirit as follows:

“For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (D&C 46:11).

We are clearly instructed that each of us is given a gift or gifts. Do we know what gift we have been given? Are we seeking to find our gifts?

“To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby” (D&C 46:12).

The phrase “that all may be profited thereby” is a very important concept to understand about the gifts of the Spirit. The gifts given to each individual are given not only for the one who receives, but also for those who can benefit when the gift is shared with others.

For example, you may be given the gift of faith and never question the existence of God, our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ.

“To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

“To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful” (D&C 46:13–14).

With the gift of faith, you may be given the gift of prophecy or testimony.

In addition, you may be given the gift that others would believe on your words, that they might have eternal life if they continue faithful. Many of you, as missionaries for the Church, have experienced all that I have just outlined. Or you may have brought a friend or neighbor into the Church by the way you have lived your life or through your testimony.

Other examples of the gifts that you have participated in are from verses 19 and 20 [D&C 46:19–20]:

“And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed;

“And to others it is given to have faith to heal.”

There have been times when I have laid hands upon one who was ill and felt their spirit and their faith so strongly that they would be healed that I felt a surge of the power of their faith.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the faith to be healed is one of the greatest gifts an individual can have.

On the other hand, I have seen the faith of parents when fathers and mothers desired their children to be healed. Through great faith, their children have been blessed.

“And again, it is given to some to speak with tongues;

“And to another is given the interpretation of tongues” (D&C 46:24–25).

Many of you who have gone to foreign lands have been given the gift to speak with tongues and to translate, or have the interpretation of tongues.

“And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God” (D&C 46:26).

We are told by prophets in this dispensation that revelation for the direction of the Church will not be given through the gift of tongues. The reason for this is that it is very easy for Lucifer to falsely duplicate the gift of tongues and confuse the members of the Church.

Satan has the power to trick us as it pertains to some of the gifts of the Spirit. One in which he is the most deceptive is the gift of tongues. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (1801–77) explained the need to be cautious when considering the gift of tongues.

“You may speak in tongues for your own comfort, but I lay this down for a rule, that if anything is taught by the gift of tongues, it is not to be received for doctrine” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 229).

“Speak not in the gift of tongues without understanding it, or without interpretation. The devil can speak in tongues” (Teachings, 162).

“The gift of tongues is not … empowered to dictate … the Church. All gifts and endowments given of the Lord to members of his Church are not given to control the Church; but they are under the control and guidance of the Priesthood, and are judged of by it” (Discourses of Brigham Young, comp. John A. Widtsoe [1941], 343).

The gift of tongues is used by missionaries to teach the gospel to the nations of the world.

The gifts identified in section 46 give rise to other gifts, such as:

  • The gift to ponder; looking to God for direction.

  • The gift to hear and respond to the still, small voice.

  • The gift to be calm, which includes the ability to curb anger and to be temperate rather than contentious.

  • The gift to study and to listen.

  • And, perhaps the greatest gift of all, to have charity.

There are many gifts. Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote, “Spiritual gifts are endless in number and infinite in variety” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [1985], 371).

Of the sacred gifts of the Spirit, one that I believe has impact on each of our lives is the gift of prophecy or revelation. This gift is different from the priesthood office of prophet. The gift of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus.

The Apostle Paul taught that Christians should “desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy [meaning to testify of the Savior]” (1 Cor. 14:1).

President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) taught, “All members of the Church should seek for the gift of prophecy, for their own guidance” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2 vols. [1953], 1:201).

Every Church member, if faithful, has the right to receive revelation for his or her personal blessing.

How Do We Recognize the Gifts of the Spirit?

One might ask, What are the spiritual manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit? The scriptures are clear with regard to the feelings one has within when touched by the Spirit.

For guidance, perhaps the following words to Oliver Cowdery represent a primary manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit:

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.

“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 6:14–15).

It is very important for us to pray and to fast and to be close to our Heavenly Father so when that light is brought to our mind, we will recognize it.

“Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart.

“I tell thee these things as a witness unto thee—that the words or the work which thou hast been writing are true” (D&C 6:16–17).

The Lord reminded Oliver of the night he prayed to “know concerning the truth of these things.” He helped Oliver remember by saying, “Did I not speak peace to your mind … ? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:22–23). Oliver had to learn to recognize influences of the Spirit, as you and I must learn.

The Gift of Translation

The gift of translation was something that Oliver took for granted. Consider Oliver Cowdery’s desire to translate and the instruction given him by the Lord, as recorded in section 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This scripture describes the process he must follow and then describes how the Lord responds: “Behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (D&C 9:8).

It is important that as we read the sections given to Oliver Cowdery (D&C 6 and D&C 9), we understand how they apply to us.

How to Receive Gifts of the Spirit

Access to the gifts of the Holy Ghost is guaranteed only when we live our lives in harmony with the principles of the gospel. There was a period of time following the Savior’s earthly ministry when these gifts were not active in the lives of God’s children. The loss of these gifts resulted from a turning away from heavenly thoughts or acts and an acceptance of earthly gods.

Elder Orson Pratt (1811–81) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles discussed John Wesley’s insightful words from the mid-1700s (Sermon 94) as he wrote about the Dark Ages:

“‘The real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the christian church, was, because the christians were turned heathens again. …’ If then, the ‘whole of christendom,’ without one exception, have been ‘buried in the most abominable idolatry for upwards of eight hundred years,’ … And if they, because they are destitute of the gifts, are not even now christians, but heathens … , we ask where the authority was during this eight hundred years, and where is it now? Surely God would not recognise ‘the most abominable idolaters,’ as holding authority” (Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, no. 2 [1850], 21).

Through the faith and instrumentality of Joseph Smith, the gifts of the Holy Ghost were restored with the restoration of the priesthood.

The sixth and seventh articles of faith state: [A of F 1:6–7]

“We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth” (A of F 1:6).

“We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth” (A of F 1:7).

Following our baptism, each of us had those holding the Melchizedek Priesthood lay hands on our heads for us to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. If we are faithful, we can have His influence with us. Through Him, we each can be blessed with certain spiritual powers called gifts of the Spirit. These gifts are given to those who are faithful to Christ. They will help us know and teach the truths of the gospel. They will help us bless others. They will guide us back to our Heavenly Father.

While the Holy Ghost can influence all mankind, the gift of the Holy Ghost functions when:

  • an individual has been baptized and confirmed by one having the priesthood and has been given the gift of the Spirit,

  • an individual continues to act under the principles of righteousness,

  • the recipient is striving to be virtuous and pure,

  • the recipient acts with integrity and truth and keeps the commandments of God.

Ponder this message from President George Q. Cannon (1827–1901) as he served as First Counselor in the First Presidency:

“If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect. … No man ought to say, ‘Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature.’ He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things, and to give gifts that will eradicate them. If a man lack wisdom, it is his duty to ask God for wisdom. The same with everything else. That is the design of God concerning His Church. He wants His Saints to be perfected in the truth. For this purpose He gives these gifts, and bestows them upon those who seek after them, in order that they may be a perfect people upon the face of the earth” (Millennial Star, 23 Apr. 1894, 260).

So, as we consider each of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, remember the counsel of heaven is to “seek … earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;

“For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek” (D&C 46:8–9).

A prerequisite for seeking after the gifts may require that we find out which gifts we have been given. The scriptures further record:

“And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are, that are given unto the church.

“For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (D&C 46:10–11).

To find the gifts we have been given, we must pray and fast. Often patriarchal blessings tell us the gifts we have received and declare the promise of gifts we can receive if we seek after them. I urge you each to discover your gifts and to seek after those that will bring direction to your life’s work and that will further the work of heaven.

During our time here on earth, we have been charged to develop the natural gifts and capabilities Heavenly Father has blessed us with. Then it will be our opportunity to use these gifts to become teachers and leaders of God’s children wherever they may be found on earth. To exercise these gifts, we must develop a purity of heart.

The world needs people who can keep their word, who have a code of honor, and who can finish a task and endure to the end.

As Latter-day Saints, we need not look like the world. We need not entertain like the world. Our personal habits should be different. Our recreation should be different. Our concern for family will be different. As we establish this distinctiveness firmly in our life’s pattern, the blessings of heaven await to assist us.

How can we accomplish this goal? I know there is a loving Heavenly Father who wishes to help. He has made available sacred gifts—even the gifts of the Spirit. As we exercise and magnify these gifts, we will be able to accomplish the callings and responsibilities that will come into our lives.

The Gift of Discernment

We can have the gift of discerning of spirits. George Q. Cannon has called the gift of discerning of spirits “a gift that is of exceeding value and one that should be enjoyed by every Latter-day Saint. … No Latter-day Saint should be without this gift, because there is such a variety of spirits in the world which seek to deceive and lead astray” (Gospel Truth, sel. Jerreld L. Newquist, 2 vols. in 1 [1987], 156–57).

Some may mean well but are listening to the wrong influence. Some people operate in a spirit of contention—clever with words from much practice, but not focused on correcting their own imperfections. They focus on the imperfections of others.

The Spirit of the Lord withdraws from them with their faultfinding and contentions. Unless they change, they rarely endure to the end but fall away in time. The Lord and the prophets of this day have set the course we should follow.

How can I question without losing the Spirit? This is a question often asked of me by young people. All of us have questions at times in our lives on policies, procedures, or even principles. The best way to find the answers we seek is to search out the solution for ourselves.

How do we go about it?

First and foremost, it is our attitude, or how we ask the question, that is very, very important. If it is a demand, one loses the opportunity for an answer.

Second, if we have strong feelings about the way something should be and are unwilling to listen, we may lose the opportunity to get an answer.

One only has to remember when Martin Harris wanted to take home pages of the Book of Mormon translation to show to others. Joseph Smith prayed to the Lord a number of times to finally be allowed to let the man do it. The Lord knew that the pages would be lost. But sometimes we want something so much and keep praying about it that the Lord lets us do it for our learning experience.

Sometimes we are drawn into seeking and giving answers that bring recognition or notoriety to “our” thinking and to “our” opinion. Don’t look for signs or answers that build you up. Humility and submissiveness to God will always be fundamental in receiving direction from Him.

Others operate in a spirit of gratitude to the Lord for the gospel and concentrate on correcting their own imperfections. We can develop the ability to discern what spirit is influencing others and ourselves. We should seek and pray for this gift lest we be deceived.

The gift of discernment is like the rod of iron; it will keep us on the path toward the tree of life, which means eternal life.

This gift is of significant value in determining personal direction and in ministering in God’s service. In 1 John 4:1–3 we read:

“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:

“And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”

How does one distinguish between manifestations of the Spirit and counterfeits? One might ask these questions:

Is the manifestation edifying? Spiritual gifts are not given to satisfy one’s lusts or curiosities, but are given as a blessing and benefit to those who love God and keep His commandments.

In acts of healing, does the healer follow the divinely established procedures? That is, does he do it in the manner in which Jesus did, seeking faith and purity of heart and then anointing with oil?

Has the worker of miracles received the gift of the Holy Ghost himself through the prescribed ordinances? One cannot invoke the blessings of heaven without having received the gifts and the right or authority to act in His name.

Cautions

May I take a moment to talk of some cautions taught me by experiences that I have observed regarding the gifts of the Spirit.

Too often people feel that answers to their prayers and their pleading for guidance and direction will be given in dramatic manifestations or through a direct voice giving specific directions from a heavenly host. My personal experience and my observation of the Brethren as they guide and direct the Church and solve problems has taught me that the answers come oftentimes over an extended period of time with almost a natural solution whereby people take actions on the feelings of their hearts—which bring them peace and comfort—rather than through dramatic revelation.

Let me give you an example of how I learned this lesson. As a regional representative, I was traveling with President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988) to a stake conference for the selection of a new stake president. We had been driving in a car for more than an hour discussing the Church and priesthood administration. For some reason, I asked a question that, at the moment I asked it, I realized was inappropriate.

The question I asked President Romney was “What is the most spiritual experience you have had as an Apostle of the Lord?” There was a pause. It seemed like an eternity. Then he said, “I believe what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught, that if we would keep our spiritual experiences to ourselves, many more spiritual experiences could be shared with us.”

It seemed like there was a long period of silence after that remark, and then he said to me, “I owe you a better answer.” Then he gave me great counsel. He said the greatest spiritual experiences of his life had been when he had been on assignment from the President of the Church or the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, as we were that day. He said: “We will interview 25 or 30 priesthood brethren, and there will be more than one who will be qualified to be the stake president. But after we have done all we can do, we will get on our knees and pray to our Heavenly Father. We will tell Him of our feelings of who the new stake president ought to be and the reasons why. We will tell Him of the needs of the stake at this time. Then He will give us a confirmation.”

It was interesting that he said “us,” because it was true on that occasion that as we knelt and prayed, we both were able to receive a confirmation.

This is one of the best examples that I have had of what the gifts of the Spirit are and how they are manifest in our life’s work. Apply the principles taught by President Romney to understand that you can have discernment and confirmation of the concerns that confront you, such as choosing a companion or choosing a career that is best for you.

Isn’t it interesting that President Romney was sent to interview 25 or 30 men to choose one stake president rather than being told directly who it should be before his arrival? This is what the Lord means when He tells us to study it out in our own minds. Too often we want to be given answers to questions and problems that, if they were given in the manner we ask for them, would take away our agency and the blessings that come from reaching out to the Lord for answers and direction.

Some think it would be nice to have “spiritual fortune cookies” we could open to find the answers to life’s challenges. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a labeled jar we could reach into for our answers? But that is not the way it is meant to be.

I would like to express my love for my companion. I would not be what I am without her. I love her dearly. She has gifts of the Spirit. We study the scriptures together, and many of the concepts I teach have come because we have had companion study and prayer. That is why I am who I am, and I must acknowledge that.

Many of you young adults are in the process of choosing a companion, and you must go through a long process before you make your decision. You have spent years thinking about what qualities or attributes you would like your companion to have. But at the same time you must be working very hard to make yourself the type of person who will attract the companion you desire.

As you go through your dating and courting relationships, I would hope that you will assess the spiritual inclinations of the individuals you’re getting to know better. How is their testimony? How do they treat their parents? How do they treat their brothers and sisters? Do they respect authority? Do they love the Lord, His servants, and the scriptures? What plans do they have for their lives?

It isn’t enough if they are handsome or beautiful, if they are rich or poor, what kind of car they drive, what kind of clothes they wear, what kind of athletic ability they have, or what kind of intellect they are. You should be seeking to understand the gifts they have that will be eternal in nature.

Use and Develop the Gifts

We must work together to use and develop gifts of the Spirit. President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) said: “God loves you as He loves each and every one of His children, and His desire and purpose and glory is to have you return to Him pure and undefiled, having proven yourselves worthy of an eternity of joy in His presence” (“A Message to the Rising Generation,” Ensign, Nov. 1977, 30).

Satan is mindful of each of us. He is committed to our destruction. He hopes we will fail to keep the covenants we have made to our Heavenly Father at baptism and in the temple. That is the only joy and satisfaction he and his disciples will ever have—when one of us falls. Think about it.

Lehi records that an angel of God had fallen from heaven, and he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God.

“And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind” (2 Ne. 2:18).

“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Ne. 2:27).

The Gift of Charity

There is one gift I would like to focus on—the gift of charity. Use charity, “the pure love of Christ” (Moro. 7:47), and give service for the right reasons. Charity is the ability to make life more meaningful for others. It is the theme of the Relief Society for a reason.

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

“Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” (1 Cor. 13:1–5).

If we have these gifts and do not give of them to lift and to strengthen those around us in a caring way, this scripture tells us that “it profiteth [us] nothing.” My wife has taught us in our home a simple phrase: “Thee lift me and I’ll lift thee, and we’ll ascend together.” There are times when we need to be lifted. There are times when we need to be strengthened. Be that kind of friend and that kind of person who lifts and strengthens others. Never make someone have to choose between your ways and the Lord’s ways. And always make sure that you’re making it easier to live God’s commandments for those who are by your side and who are your friends. Then you will understand whether you have charity.

Remember that the reason we want to have the stability and strength of the gifts of the Spirit is that we want to weather the storms when they come. We will be tried in this mortal probation. We don’t want to decide to learn how to swim when the boat is already sinking. When a severe disability or problem comes to a family or an individual, a high percentage of families and individuals break up, disintegrate, because they are overwhelmed and unprepared. That is why we are faithful, and that is why we remain strong and have those spiritual gifts.

Through His knowledge and obedience, when Jesus was in pain and upon the cross, He thought about taking care of His mother and spoke to John the Beloved about it (see John 19:25–27). In all of the pain we must go through, we have to remember the pain that is in others.

The gifts of the Spirit can guide and enrich our lives. They can strengthen us spiritually and temporally. They can help us bless the lives of others. Most important, they can bring us comfort in times of trial. They can help us magnify our callings. They can help guide us in our relationships. They can help us avoid being deceived.

I bear testimony that God has given us the gifts of the Spirit to allow us to be drawn more closely into His circle of love. He desires that we should receive these gifts of the Spirit and magnify them and have them grow within us. We have to teach one another how to seek after them. As we do, our faith in Him will increase and our true destiny will be fulfilled, ultimately to return to His presence as His valiant sons and daughters. May we seek after and obtain these gifts, I humbly pray.

[photo] Photo by Jed Clark

[illustration] Painting by Del Parson

[illustration] Painting by Gary Kapp

[photo] Photo by Steve Bunderson

[photo] Photo by Craig Dimond

[illustration] Painting by Clark Kelley Price

[illustration] Journey’s End, by Derek Hegsted