The Voice of the Spirit


I feel deeply my responsibility to teach sacred things. I am well aware that the world in which we live is becoming vastly different from the one I have known. Values have changed. Basic decency and respect for good things are eroding. A moral blackness is settling in.

For Latter-day Saints, there is an important scriptural text found in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Give ear to the voice of the living God” (D&C 50:1). The voice of the Spirit is universally available to all. The Lord said, “The Spirit enlighteneth every man [and every woman] … that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit” (D&C 84:46). He further says that “every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father” (D&C 84:47).

Some people are seeking to find the abundant life. Paul made it clear that it is “the Spirit [that] giveth life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Indeed, the Savior said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).

What are the fruits of the Spirit? Paul said that they are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22–23). The joy we seek is not a temporary emotional high but a habitual inner joy learned from long experience and trust in God. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Rectitude is a perpetual victory, celebrated not by cries ot joy but by serenity, which is joy fixed or habitual” (“Character,” in The Complete Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, New York: Wm. H. Wise & Company, 1929, page 268).

Lehi, teaching his son Jacob, declared: “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). To achieve this great objective, we must “give ear to the voice of the living God” (D&C 50:1).

I wish to testify as a living witness that joy does come through listening to the Spirit, for I have experienced it. Those who live the gospel learn to live “after the manner of happiness” (2 Ne. 5:27), as did the Nephites. All over the world, in many countries where the Church is established, members could add their testimonies to mine. Abundant evidence verifies the promise of peace, hope, love, and joy as gifts of the Spirit. Our voices join in a united petition for all God’s children to partake of these gifts also.

“So Many Kinds of Voices”

But we hear other voices. Paul said, “There are … so many kinds of voices in the world” (1 Cor. 14:10) that compete with the voice of the Spirit. Such is the situation in the world. The Spirit’s voice is ever present, but it is calm. Said Isaiah, “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isa. 32:17).

The adversary tries to smother this voice with a multitude of loud, persistent, persuasive, and appealing voices: murmuring voices that conjure up perceived injustices, whining voices that abhor challenge and work, seductive voices offering sensual enticements, soothing voices that lull us into carnal security, intellectual voices that profess sophistication and superiority, proud voices that urge us to rely on the arm of the flesh, flattering voices that puff us up with pride, cynical voices that destroy hope, entertaining voices that promote pleasure seeking, commercial voices that tempt us to “spend money for that which is of no worth” and our “labor for that which cannot satisfy” (2 Ne. 9:51), and delirious voices that spawn the desire for a “high.”

I refer not only to a drug- or alcohol-induced high, but to pursuing dangerous, death-defying experiences for nothing more than a thrill. Life, even our own, is so precious that we are accountable to the Lord for it, and we should not trifle with it. Once gone, it cannot be called back. There are so many manifestations of this that I will not enumerate them for fear of giving someone an idea. As President Joseph F. Smith said, “The knowledge of sin tempteth to its commission” (Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1963, page 373).

The rising generation will be barraged by multitudes of voices telling them how to live, how to gratify their passions, how to have it all. They will have up to 500 television channels at their fingertips. There will be all sorts of software, interactive computer modems, databases, and computer bulletin boards. There will be desktop publishing, satellite receivers, and communications networks that will suffocate them with information. Local cable news networks will cover only local news.

Everyone will be under more scrutiny. There will be fewer places for refuge and serenity. The rising generation will be bombarded with evil and wickedness like no other generation. As I contemplate this prospect, I am reminded of T. S. Eliot’s words, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” (Choruses from “The Rock,” in The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909–1950, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1971, page 96).

Without question, some will be deceived and will endure lives of heartbreak and sadness. Others will enjoy the promise recorded by Jeremiah: “I will put my law in their inward parts” (Jer. 31:33). In some ways it will be harder to be faithful in the future, perhaps even more challenging than pulling a handcart across the plains. When someone died in the wilderness of frontier America, their physical remains were buried and the handcarts continued west. But the mourning survivors had hope for their loved one’s eternal soul. However, when someone dies spiritually in the wilderness of sin, hope may be replaced by dread and fear for the loved one’s eternal welfare.

Many of the rising generation have been conditioned by the world to want it all and to want it now. Many do not want to save or work. Such self-centered, impatient desires make us susceptible to temptation. The Book of Mormon identifies four categories of enticements that Satan uses: gain, power of the flesh, popularity, and seeking the lusts of the flesh and things of the world (see 1 Ne. 22:23).

Satan’s tactic is to “turn their hearts away from the truth, that they become blinded and understand not the things which are prepared for them” (D&C 78:10). He creates a smoke screen that obscures our vision and diverts our attention.

President Heber J. Grant stated: “If we are faithful in keeping the commandments of God His promises will be fulfilled to the very letter … The trouble is, the adversary of men’s souls blinds their minds. He throws dust, so to speak, in their eyes, and they are blinded with the things of this world” (Heber J. Grant, Gospel Standards, Salt Lake City: The Improvement Era, 1969, pages 44–45).

How are we as Latter-day Saints possibly going to select what voices we will listen to and believe? The implications for us as individuals are staggering.

Use Moral Agency Wisely

First, if we are to survive, we must exercise our moral agency wisely. Amaleki tells us how we can select the proper channels: “There is nothing which is good save it comes from the Lord: and that which is evil cometh from the devil” (Omni 1:25). Every moment demands that we choose, over and over again, between that which comes from the Lord and that which comes from the devil. As tiny drops of water shape a landscape, so our minute-by-minute choices shape our character. Living the eternal gospel every day may be harder than dying for the Church and the Lord.

Mormon also compares those things that “inviteth and enticeth to sin” and those that “inviteth and enticeth to do good continually” (Moro. 7:12–13). He then gives the key for judging:

“Seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; …

“Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ” (Moro. 7:18–19).

We will not be able to travel through life on borrowed light. The light of life must be part of our very being. The voice we must learn to heed is the voice of the Spirit.

Consider Life’s Purpose

Second, we must have a purpose. Everyone in life needs to have a purpose. As members of Christ’s church, we are to consider the end of our salvation (see D&C 46:7).

The Lord has said, “If your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you” (D&C 88:67). The Apostle James warned that “a double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). And Orson Hyde said, “Let the mind be concentrated, and it possesses almighty power. It is the agent of the Almighty clothed with mortal tabernacles, and we must learn to discipline it, and bring it to bear on one point” (in Journal of Discourses, 7:153).

When the Savior visited the American continent, the more righteous part of the Nephites had to learn to focus attention in order to understand his voice.

“They heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard; and it was not a harsh voice … ; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn” (3 Ne. 11:3).

They heard the voice a second time and did not understand. When they heard the voice a third time, they “did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came” (3 Ne. 11:5).

We should be aware that there are invisible hosts watching over us even as they did Elisha of old. When the King of Syria sent hosts of warriors with chariots and horses to capture the prophet, they came by night and surrounded the city. Elisha’s servant, seeing the great hosts, became very frightened and said to Elisha:

“Alas, my master! how shall we do? …

“And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kgs. 6:15, 17).

In answer to his frightened servant’s question, Elisha said, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kgs. 6:16).

I believe that unseen hosts tend us as we seek to do the will of the Lord. Remember the words of Elisha: “They that be with us are more than they that be with them.”

Strengthen Testimony

Third, we must strengthen our testimonies. Everyone in life needs to have spiritual goals. One way to learn of our life’s purpose is to have a patriarchal blessing. A choice young man who recently received his patriarchal blessing was told in his blessing that many of his forebears who paid a terrible price for the gospel were present as the blessing was given. Our patriarchal blessing is one important way to learn our life’s purpose.

As we acquire knowledge of the plan of salvation and learn why we are here and where we are going, our testimonies will be strengthened. In addition, as we walk by faith we will have confirmed in our hearts spiritual experiences that will strengthen our faith and testimonies.

Those of this generation are a chosen generation. Our women have a great destiny. President Spencer W. Kimball has written: “It is a great blessing to be a woman in the Church today. The opposition against righteousness has never been greater, but the opportunities for fulfilling our highest potential have also never been greater” (Woman, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1979, page 2).

Women are so richly endowed with the spiritual gifts about which Paul spoke: faith, hope, and charity (see 1 Cor. 13:13). Thus, part of their destiny is to exemplify the sublime womanly virtues as the nurturers, the teachers, and the refining influence so important for our families and the Church. Women are the enriching adornment of the race.

We must learn and gain a testimony of the plan of salvation. “God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption, that they should not do evil” (Alma 12:32). We must learn of our relationship to God. As we walk by faith, we will have confirmed in our hearts spiritual experiences that will strengthen our faith and testimony.

Search the Scriptures and Follow Counsel

Fourth, we must search the scriptures, which are the “voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation” (D&C 68:4). The Lord also said of his words: “For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; … Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words” (D&C 18:35–36).

Fifth, we must gain a conviction of the divine calling of the Brethren and be willing to follow their counsel. I would give the following advice to members of the Church:

Honor the priesthood. You of this generation are a chosen generation. You men are part of a royal priesthood. You men and women were, no doubt, chosen before the world was and reserved to come forward in this time. We love you. We have confidence in you. We know that you will be equal to the challenges that are placed before you to carry forward the work of the Lord. We know it is hard. You live in a morally desensitizing environment, but you must always remember that someone is listening and watching. If you support and sustain those who hold the priesthood, it will be a great stabilizing influence in your lives.

Stay morally clean. Young men and women must believe that it is worth it in the end to be true and faithful. Worldly pleasures do not match up to heavenly joy. It may not be popular to avoid certain things, or to do other things, but it is better to be alone and to be right than to be eternally wrong. We counsel youth to associate with those who can help them maintain their standards rather than tear them down. Youth must learn to live by their own standards. Even though they may have become somewhat desensitized or may have made some mistakes, they must not let Satan reduce their self-esteem to the point that they become discouraged. We encourage youth to carry and frequently read their For the Strength of Youth booklet and to listen to their parents and leaders. There is not a problem that one cannot handle with the help of the Lord.

We counsel youth not to grow up too fast and not to miss the joy of being righteous young adults. We encourage youth to enjoy the dating years, have many friends, have confidence in themselves and in their future. They must learn to labor, and they must learn to wait.

I warn of a pervasive false doctrine. For want of a better name, I call it “premeditated repentance.” By that I mean consciously sinning with the idea that afterwards repentance will permit the enjoyment of the full blessings of the gospel, such as temple marriage or a mission. In an increasingly wicked society, it is harder to toy with evil without becoming contaminated. The foolish doctrine of premeditated repentance was foreseen by Nephi:

“And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Ne. 28:8).

Of all those who teach this doctrine, the Lord says, “The blood of the saints shall cry from the ground against them” (2 Ne. 28:10).

I do not know how the Lord will discipline the rising generation because of the general callousness and hardness of the hearts of so many in society. In biblical times the Lord sent “fiery serpents” among the people (see Num. 21:6). After the people were bitten, the Lord prepared a way for them to be healed. As commanded by the Lord, Moses made a serpent of brass and put it on a pole. To be healed, those who were bitten had only to look upon the brass serpent (see Num. 21:8–9). This was too simple for many, and “because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished” (1 Ne. 17:41).

Follow the Voice of the Spirit

I have suggested a simple solution for selecting the channel to which we must attune ourselves: Listen to and follow the voice of the Spirit. This is an ancient, even eternal solution, and may not be popular in a society that is always looking for something new.

Furthermore, this solution requires patience in a world that demands instant gratification. It is quiet, peaceful, and subtle in a world enamored by that which is loud, incessant, fast-paced, garish, and crude. It requires us to be contemplative while our peers seek physical titillation. It requires the prophets to “put [us] always in remembrance of these things, though [we] know them,” that we may “be established in the present truth” (2 Pet. 1:12). This may seem foolish in a time when it is not worth remembering much of the trivial information to which we are exposed.

This solution of listening to and following the Spirit is one unified, consistent, age-old message in a world that quickly becomes bored in the absence of intensity, variety, and novelty. It requires us to walk by faith in a world governed by sight (see 2 Cor. 4:18; 2 Cor. 5:7). We must see spiritual verities with the eye of eternal faith, while the masses of mankind depend solely on temporal things, which can be known only through the physical senses.

In short, this solution of listening to and following the Spirit may not be popular; it may not get us gain or worldly power. But “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17).

We must learn to ponder the things of the Spirit and to respond to its promptings. We must filter out the static generated by Satan. As we become attuned to the Spirit, “thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isa. 30:21).

Hearkening to “the voice of the living God” (D&C 50:1) will give us “peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (D&C 59:23). These are the greatest of all the gifts of God (see D&C 14:7).

I pray with Paul “unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, …

“That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,

“May … know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:14, 16–19).

I believe and testify that our spirits are special spirits and were reserved until this generation to stand strong against the evil winds that blow, to stand straight and upright with the heavy burdens that will be placed on us. I am confident we will be faithful and true to the great task that is ahead of us.

[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson and Jed Clark

[illustration] Christ Appearing in the Western Hemisphere, by Arnold Friberg

[illustration] Illustrated by Paul Mann