I’ve been feeling an urge to write about this for a while, because I feel like it is perhaps the most important thing I have to share. And it’s been so useful and valuable in my life. But I don’t know exactly how to go about sharing something so deeply personal and sacred to me. I’ve been a little hesitant to put this out there because I’m afraid I won’t do it justice, or that it might come across the wrong way to someone. But I feel like I should, so here we go. I just really want to share what I’ve learned, in case it might help someone who may be struggling. Anyway, I hope whoever reads this will be able to understand what I’m trying to express.
I remember years ago when I was trying to figure out how to recognize and follow the spirit, it was often frustrating and confusing. I didn’t know when I was feeling a prompting from the Holy Ghost, or when it was just my own thoughts. It has taken me a long time to really learn how the spirit works, but I’ve learned SO much over the years and I have come to the point where I am able to feel the guidance of the spirit throughout the day, every day. And it’s awesome! I have an absolute assurance and conviction now that the gift of the Holy Ghost is real and can truly transform our lives.
These are things I’ve learned from personal experience. I know that everyone is different and some may come to learn how to recognize the spirit differently than I did. But I feel that it’s worth sharing my thoughts, in case it helps anyone out there trying to ‘figure it out.’ I’d also love to hear additional insights from any of you about how you have learned to recognize the spirit in your lives. Feel free to chime in and contribute your thoughts!
It’s important to point out that I can’t pinpoint a specific event when all the sudden I became good at recognizing the whisperings of the spirit. It was a gradual process. But I do remember a time in my life when I started to recognize it more when a thought in my mind was coming from the spirit:
It was during high school. I think I was around 17. I held a job as a waitress at a small local family restaurant. I remember I was earnestly trying to seek to recognize the spirit more at this time in my life.
I remember at work, occasionally I’d have a very subtle feeling to do something, like for instance, one time I felt impressed to “go back and check on your table.” But I just checked on them, I reasoned. They’ll think I’m weird if I go back again so soon.
But I decided to just go with it and figured why not, it can’t hurt, and hey-what if it’s a prompting? It was really interesting because when the person at that table saw me coming back around the corner he said something like, “Oh I’m so glad you came back! Could I get some ketchup?”, confirming to me that what I had felt to do was probably a prompting from the spirit. And lots of other little things like that. That was the beginning of when I started to realize that I might be recognizing the spirit.
Don’t Miss the Mark
It may seem silly or trivial to some, but I believe that Heavenly Father often uses trivial circumstances as a “training ground” for us to learn about the workings of the spirit, so that we can be more prepared for more important promptings down the road. He’ll prompt us in the little simple everyday matters where the consequences aren’t as huge. If you’re looking only for great and miraculous instances where you are guided in some super important thing, you may be missing the mark. At least in the beginning, when you’re just trying to get your spiritual footing.
Here’s a few other tips that, knowing what I know now, I’d share with my younger self:
Patience and quiet introspection
Never underestimate how subtle the spirit is.
I think it’s worth noting that often the ideas and impressions I received from the spirit were very subtle. They still are. It would be hard to recognize them for what they are, unless you were in a spiritual state of mind and free from mental distractions. I think the purer you strive to live/become, the easier it is to feel the spirit. Not that the subtleness goes away, but you become much more attuned to it and so it feels more powerful.
I’ve also realized that promptings from the spirit could just be a thought or idea that seems like it is our own, but which is really from the spirit. But you’ll only be able to recognize that if you are seeking to be receptive.
My #1 advice for learning to recognize the spirit is this:
Just experiment, experiment, experiment!
Learning how the Holy Ghost works is like conducting a bunch of science experiments. Don’t spend time overly worrying about whether or not it’s the Holy Ghost or just you. If the idea pops into your head and it’s not something bad, then go ahead and just do it! Even if it doesn’t make complete sense to you. This is experimenting your faith… and over time if you keep experimenting like this and trying to be receptive, I promise that you’ll come to be able to discern when it was really the spirit, and not just you.
“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you…” (Alma 32:27)
Choose to Believe
One of the most important things I can say is: You have to first be willing to take that leap of faith to believe that what you just felt was a prompting, even if you don’t know if it is yet.
“Give place, that a [prompting] may be planted in your heart. . . Do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord.” (Alma 32:28)
Believe that the thought you had is from the spirit and go ahead and act on it as if it is. And then afterwards have the faith to look for the evidences that show if it truly was a prompting. Look for ways you might have been blessed for following that prompting.
If you don’t begin with this faith-filled mindset, then it can be too easy to just rationalize the thought away and attribute any outcomes to chance, or your own wisdom, rather than to divine intervention. But if you try to look with spiritually discerning eyes, you’ll be blessed with a greater ability to recognize promptings for what they are. If you’re not willing to take that leap of faith (to believe it’s a prompting) before you actually know whether or not it was truly a prompting, you’ll overlook lots of promptings. This is important!
There’s something that Elder Richard G. Scott says about revelation that really rang true to me. “Inspiration carefully recorded shows God that His communications are sacred to us.” And he says that writing it down makes it more likely that we will receive additional revelation. I have experienced this and can attest to this!
And here’s a treasure trove of additional tips he shares:
“There are some practical principles that enhance revelation. First, yielding to emotions such as anger or hurt or defensiveness will drive away the Holy Ghost. Those emotions must be eliminated, or our chance for receiving revelation is slight.
Another principle is to be cautious with humor. Loud, inappropriate laughter will offend the Spirit. A good sense of humor helps revelation; loud laughter does not. A sense of humor is an escape valve for the pressures of life.
Another enemy to revelation comes from exaggeration or loudness in what is stated. Careful, quiet speech will favor the receipt of revelation.
On the other hand, spiritual communication can be enhanced by good health practices. Exercise, reasonable amounts of sleep, and good eating habits increase our capacity to receive and understand revelation. . .It is important that our daily activities do not distract us from listening to the Spirit.”
(Read his entire talk here – it’s amazing!)
To that I would add:
Avoid negative media that drives away the spirit. Be very selective. Follow the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet guidelines. You really can’t play it too safe. No price is too high, no sacrifice too great, to obtain the blessings of the Holy Ghost.
Seek to be as pure as possible. Avoid negative thoughts, criticizing or excessive sarcasm.
Seek moments of quiet introspection. Avoid the temptation to be constantly distracted – whether by music or other media, excessive partying, constant/loud talking, etc. Take a break now and then from all the buzz and noise of life.
Have your heart constantly drawn out in prayer throughout the day. Try to have a grateful heart.
And a couple bits of advice from my sweet husband (who is someone I look up to in this regard):
Listen to good music. It will bring the spirit into your life. And the opposite thing is true- Bad music one of the easiest ways to distance yourself from the spirit.
One of the best ways to invite the spirit is to ask for opportunities to serve others. Pray for opportunities to serve others and then just keep observant and look for the opportunities you prayed for.
There are so many people who inspire & teach me with their examples of following the spirit. I’m not perfect at it. I’m constantly learning still but have come a long way. I’ve become acquainted with the voice of the spirit to the point that I now can usually be confident in discerning whether or not what I am feeling is from the spirit, which gives me the courage to follow the prompting, even if the immediate result doesn’t show a confirmation that it was the right thing to do…for example, I’ve been able to follow promptings with more confidence to do things (such as writing a note to someone, share something on social media, or bearing testimony boldly) even when they were not received well or I didn’t see the fruits of it.
As a result, I think Heavenly Father has been able to use me in a more powerful way. Because my testimony doesn’t depend upon those visible confirmations, if that makes sense.
There’s Nothing More Valuable!
It’s hard to know how to completely explain this to others so they’ll understand and grasp the concepts, but I have a great desire to share what I have learned about how the spirit works because I know it is one of the most valuable skills you could ever gain in this life. I firmly believe that it’s more valuable than any other marketable skill or talent you could ever possess. Becoming an expert in learning to recognize the workings of the spirit in your life will absolutely help you in every aspect of your life. It will make you a better employee. It will help you to avoid some silly mistakes, as well as major mistakes that you would later regret. It will make you more productive by saving you time and make life so much more convenient! (Ok I could go on and on about this last point. There are seriously so many examples! Like the times when I have felt a small impression to look somewhere to find something I had lost (and I find it!) Or to bring the primary manual to church even though we’re not teaching that day. Or to bring an extra $10 with me to the store even though I’m only planning to buy lettuce and milk. And then later I find out that following those promptings saved me a whole lot of headache because of unforeseen circumstances that only Heavenly Father would have been able to predict. And the times when I’ve felt to check on one of my children in just the nick of time. Or the time when I felt prompted to bring my apartment key with me, even though my roommates never lock the door (but I didn’t heed the prompting and as a result, got locked out. Lesson learned.) And countless times when I’ll feel prompted to bring something with me when I go out and about, so I’ll bring it even though it totally doesn’t seem needful at all. But then something will happen or it will somehow turn out to be a good thing that I brought it. Sometimes I’ll have a thought that I should go into another room to take out the trash, or switch out the laundry, and then while I’m in that room I’ll see something that reminds me of something I had completely forgotten about that I really need to do. (The Lord works in mysterious ways). Or sometimes I’ll feel a small impression to do a certain thing for my son that ends up being just what he needs. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera….
It’s incredible how the spirit works! I’m telling you, it’s real, people! It makes me so sad when I hear people say that they think the spirit is just a figment of the imagination. (Reminds me of 1 Corinthians 2:14 & Alma 30). Just going back and reading all these small accounts in my journal has been a huge testimony-builder for me). I know we can be guided in our life, even in the small seemingly insignificant matters in our life. Truly understanding and using the gift of the Holy Ghost makes life so much easier, saves you a lot of hassle, and makes life more exciting too! It’s like telling the future! 😉 You can be prompted to do things that might not make much sense now, but then find out in some future circumstance why and it will make sense. I just can’t stress it enough how important it is to make this our ultimate goal in life: To live worthy to receive and maintain this most wonderful of all gifts – the gift of the Holy Ghost – and to learn to be an “expert” in how it operates. Everything depends on getting and keeping the spirit in our lives.
Here’s some additional AWESOME videos about learning to recognize the spirit. I highly highly recommend that you watch these. They are amazing!