Hitting the Mark


Adapted from a BYU devotional address originally given on May 14, 1996.
Guided by the Holy Spirit, we will find that our actions are, as the Lord intended, …

Hitting the Mark

In my enthusiasm and excitement on my first day of service as a mission president, I asked the zone leaders I had invited to my home, “How much of a typical day in missionary service are you normally under the vibrating, powerful influence of the Spirit?”

They obviously did not know what to say. They acted like I had caught them by surprise. Having been converted to the Church as an adult and not having served as a young, full-time missionary, I assumed it was natural that a missionary would be always under the influence of the Spirit. How surprised I was when no missionary was saying anything.

Finally, one of them spoke up. “Last Thursday night, while we were teaching the Lehman family, we were feeling the Spirit.”

I remember my immediate response was, “That was it? How about the rest of the day?”

There seems to be inside of us the capability to be spiritually illiterate, in spite of the brilliant knowledge we may have about the facts of the Restoration, the plan of salvation, and the organizational part of the restored gospel. Although we have, with our baptism, received the gift of the Holy Ghost, there seems to be the need to learn more about the workings of the Spirit. Our lives can be blessed with its fruits, not only for our own benefit, but also so that the honest people in this world may see the light of the gospel that can enable them to find their way to salvation.

As soon as I asked my zone leaders what they experience when they are under the influence of the Spirit, they were all participating, describing the different effects the Spirit has in our lives. They agreed that being under the influence of the Spirit fills us with satisfying joy. It enhances our ability to make necessary adjustments, even in the most difficult circumstances. This Spirit helps us develop our intellectual capabilities and even delivers the motivation to use them. The zone leaders agreed that under the influence of the Spirit, some things that can seem uncomfortable, like hard work, getting up on time, going the extra mile, overcoming homesickness, overcoming flaws of character, and other personal sacrifices, become easier.

It became clear that, under the influence of the Spirit, we are empowered to act in wisdom. We see the complexity of a problem in its simple parts and see possible solutions unfolding in front of our eyes, to our own surprise. In other words, our creativity is developed and multiplied. That which is a burden without it becomes a privilege when we are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

As a member in the Church, I have grown to understand that when we are filled with the Holy Spirit we have power to resist sin. We can obtain insight on how to heal the wounds of the afflicted and to build a community of Saints. But without constant effort, it will be very difficult to always be focused on our most important desires: to be always filled with the vibrant, powerful influence of the Spirit.

Occasionally we may even feel a certain reluctance to deal with matters of a spiritual nature, because of our insecurity in discerning the difference between influence from the Spirit of God and the evil promptings that may come from the liar and deceiver. When we want to honor the great gift of the Spirit, which God has given us, we have to become aware whether we are under its influence or not. When we are not satisfied with the world of our own feelings—we are grouchy and unhappy, or we are slothful or sloppy—we must know that we are not under the influence of the Holy Spirit. I have seen tragedies happen when members professed that they had prayed about a certain direction and then, assuming they had received answers, ran right into disaster.

Many times in our lives it happens that the gifts of the Spirit rest dormant in us. We are not even aware of the full extent of their existence, as it was with my missionaries. Did they not have the Spirit? Of course they did. They had even passed the test of forsaking their own self-centered plans to become sacred witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ. Still they had not fully understood the workings of the Spirit.

Why did the one elder feel the Spirit as he was teaching the Lehman family? Because at that time he and his companion were completely focused in their search for divine guidance. Too often we are not aware of the powerful gift which rests dormant in us. We cannot be grateful for that of which we are not aware, nor can we activate its power.

The Spirit is a divine entity. It, therefore, gives the ultimate example of politeness. It will not intrude into our lives. It will not force itself into our lives, unless in circumstances in which we may endanger our salvation, for instance, by breaking a covenant. The Holy Ghost has been given to us as a gift, but it can only become an active part of our lives when we develop in our souls a desire to awaken the Spirit to life. In our understanding of the freedoms in our personal responsibility, we must become aware of the nature of our own desires and make it our desire for the Holy Ghost to be with us.

Paul declared to the Romans that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). The original word in the Bible for the word sin is hamartia. The word hamartia means “missing the mark,” deriving from the sport of archery. Those of you who like basketball would probably call it “shooting an air ball.” When we do not do everything in our life in faith, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we are missing the mark. We are off target. When we are off target, we will not feel the confidence and joy and power of the Holy Spirit and, therefore, we will have to learn to direct our desires towards repentance, or change, to bring us back on target.

Is it possible for us to be always, in a complete way, under the influence of the Holy Spirit? Not as mortals. It is not given to us to live in this world and to be without sin. But those who have been confirmed members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are entitled to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, if we live worthily and if we will receive it. When we are totally obedient to our covenant and when we let the Holy Spirit help us in our responsibilities, we will be on target through the Atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Let us learn to rejoice in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the understanding of the magnitude and the vastness of it. Let us be reverent in learning and listening, in playing our part in the Lord’s marvelous work, which one day will fill the whole earth. When we accept the liberation that comes from Christ and choose the right, and choose eternal life, and choose that the Holy Spirit will always be with us, we will be able to live our lives in dignity and in virtue and rejoice every day of our lives.

Staying Close

There are only two elements that separate us from the Holy Spirit: first, our lack of desire to repent, and second, our lack of desire to forgive. Here is a list to help you stay close to the Spirit:

  • Embrace each day, no matter how it looks, with an enthusiastic welcome.

  • Steer your thoughts away from yourself and direct them, in gratitude and love, toward your Savior and your Heavenly Father. This will help you overcome fatigue, despair, and physical sickness.

  • Choose to accept the challenges that must be part of life. They can draw you closer to Heavenly Father and make you stronger.

  • Feed your own spirit. It needs constant nourishment.

  • Sacrifice your selfishness. Meekness prepares you to receive the Spirit.

  • Put all frustrations, hurt feelings, and grumblings into the perspective of your eternal hope.

  • Pause to ponder the suffering Christ felt in the Garden of Gethsemane.

  • Realize that Heavenly Father knows you are not perfect. He will give you comfort and suggestions of where to improve.

  • Understand that your Father in Heaven knows better than you what you need. Listen, and follow the suggestions he makes, even the uncomfortable ones. Over time everything will fall into place.

  • Fear the consequences of sin. Flee the very appearance of evil.

  • Look into the eyes of those who are hard to love, long enough to see them as children of God.

  • Forgive and you will be free again.

  • Avoid pessimistic, negative, or criticizing thoughts. On the road toward salvation let questions arise, but never doubts.

  • Avoid rush and haste and uncontrolled words. Divine light develops in places of peace and quiet.

  • Serve with all your heart, might, mind, and strength.

  • Be grateful for every opportunity to serve.

  • Realize when you are asked to sacrifice that Heavenly Father wants to give you something better.

[photos] Photography by John Luke

[illustrations] Paintings Christ in Gethsemane by Heinrich Hofmann; Pool of Bethesda by Carl Heinrich Bloch