Several weeks ago, my wife, Elisabeth, and I were going out for the evening. Elisabeth’s parents had volunteered to babysit our young children. As we rushed out the door, I wanted to reinforce who would be in charge during our absence. I asked my three-year old son, “Alright, Dane, who are you going to listen to?”
He replied, “Jesus Christ”
“Good response,” I thought, “but not the answer I’m looking for right now.” A little frustrated, I clarified my question, “Yes, but he's not here. Who are you going to listen to that’s here in this house?”
Three-year-old Dane had an answer for that too: “The Holy Ghost!”
“Fair enough,” I thought. I conceded my line of questioning and responded, “That’s right. You listen to the Holy Ghost. It’s good to have him here in our house.”
“We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost” (Articles of Faith 1). “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us” (D&C 130:22).
“A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him” (D&C 130:23). Our behavior invites or repels the second counselor of the Godhead. We all enjoy the companionship of the Spirit, but sometimes we offend him.
Suppose instead of the Spirit in your home, Jesus came to dinner. Everything is proceeding splendidly, but then your youngest wanders away from the table for a moment and returns with a lightsaber, which he thoughtlessly swings around, knocking over a couple glasses, spilling their contents and shattering them on the floor. Just as thoughtlessly, you snap a reaction back at the boy. As the adrenaline subsides, you notice that Jesus has slipped out the front door. What do you do? How quickly do you run after him to apologize and entreat his return? Are we just as quick when the third member of the Godhead heads for the exit? Let’s keep him around.
The Holy Ghost is the spirit of revelation, and will speak to your mind and to your heart (D&C 8:2-3). As far as I can tell, it takes a lifetime of practice to listen to the Holy Ghost. Three-year-old Dane is off to a good start. I’m thirty-four and not sure that I’m much more advanced, but I would like to share a couple things I’ve learned.
Over ten years ago, I stood at the end of a narrow, paved road in the Philippines. Houses were dense along the road, but beyond it were rice fields as far as the eye could see, except for a singular home planted amidst the rice. I had a thought that I should visit that house. It wasn’t an extraordinary thought, because my companion and I were missionaries and looking for people to teach. However, we were focusing our tracting on dense areas to maximize the rate we met new people. Fording muddy rice paddies was not our common mode of operation. So, almost as soon as the first thought to visit the home completed, a counter-barrage of thoughts sought to dissuade me. “Stick to the dense areas, you’ll make better time.” “Your existing plan is a good one. Stick to the plan.” “Chances are, even if someone lives there, they’re out in the fields.” “If you go out there, you’ll fall in the mud.”
I looked behind me, at the safe and crowded paved streets that I had just walked down without success, and then back at the green field that lay in front of me. Despite the difficulty of the way, the green was inviting. I looked to my companion, whose gaze was also towards the house. We decided to go. I did not fall into the mud, and several weeks later, the entire household was baptized.
I believe that my companion and I were prompted by the Spirit to visit that house, though I couldn’t have claimed that at the time that I received the prompting. I had a thought—a good thought—though immediately countered by a volley of opposing thoughts. How was I to discern one from another?
Practically speaking, we do not need the ability to precisely identify the origin of thoughts that lead to good. It is enough to know, as Mormon did, that “all things which are good cometh of God...every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:12-13).
We know that our Father in Heaven is a source of good, that he independently generates good thoughts. We also know that he intends for us to become like him and that one of the primary reasons we are here is to learn, through our own experience, the difference between good and evil. As we participate in the plan and strive to be like our Father in Heaven, it should not surprise us when we develop into nascent sources of good, capable of independently generating some good thoughts. In fact, Alma teaches that we will be judged for our own thoughts (Alma 12:14). Not all thoughts come from God or the Devil. We generate plenty on our own and are expected to curate them.
So, don’t fret so much over whether your good thoughts are your own or promptings from the Spirit. Be grateful that you’re having them. The plan is working in your life. Heed those thoughts. Square them against our revealed religion, and act accordingly. Just do good, for goodness sake.
Now, I want to return to my thoughts in the Philippines and how I identified that as a prompting. In that case, the key was that I was not personally inclined to visit that house. I would have passed it up. Of all the good thoughts that we have, those persistent thoughts that challenge our personal inclinations are the ones most likely to have originated on high. God does not need to prompt us to do something that we are already inclined to do, nor does he intend to. He has said, “it is not meet that I should command in all things...I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:26-27). However, in his mercy, God condescends to intervene when a course needs correcting or a pending plan needs a push.
Even the greatest of plans need a little prompting. Jesus had a plan when he entered Gethsemane. He’d been over it in his mind again and again. He’d counted the cost, but it’d come time to pay. He “fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me...the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:39-41). Jesus wanted the outcome, but in the reality of the moment, he was personally inclined to search for another way. A “second time, [he] prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done,” and, yet seeking further confirmation to continue, he “prayed the third time, saying the same words” (Matthew 26:42-44).
What might have happened had not our Father prompted his Son to continue through reservations? Jesus later exclaimed, “glory be to the Father, [for] I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men” (D&C 19:19). Jesus was never one to take credit, but he chose. He chose to follow a prompting against his inclination to shrink.
What request are you disinclined to acquiesce? Is there something in your life that you feel you should do but would rather not? Does it align with the revealed word of God found in the scriptures and teachings of modern prophets? I testify to you that that is a prompting from the Holy Ghost. I have felt that way more than once, often for extended periods. I have followed terribly uncomfortable promptings to blessings beyond what I could have imagined. Trust those promptings. Get started, like Jesus. Keep praying while you’re at it, and you, too, will have angels sent to strengthen you, even—and especially—when your battle is against sin (Luke 22:43).
As you follow those promptings, you will benefit from what I feel is the greatest gift of the spirit: a feeling of assurance that you are “pursuing a course which [is] agreeable to the will of God” (Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith 6:3), that you are “sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (Ephesians 1:13-14). The gift of the Holy Ghost is God’s earnest money in your baptismal covenant contract. His deposit should give you confidence in him. Remove your contingency of self will and allow him to purchase your soul in full. Become his again and secure your inheritance.
I pray that we may invite the Spirit, recognize his promptings, act, and feel his assurance, and I offer these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.