Recognizing the Holy Ghost

Okay so the format of this blog post is a little different. At church, sometimes I teach the men’s group, and I’ll put together my notes and then share those. What usually happens is that we’ll stop and have conversations about the topic being talked about. I’m sharing my notes here, which can seem a little disjointed, but I also have a story added here at the end that talks about one of my own experiences. I’ve cleaned this up a bit, but if it seems like it’s in a “presentation” format, that’s why. The focus here was on learning to recognize the Holy Ghost, something we are told often that we need to learn to do, and I wanted to go into details about how I actually do that, and some ideas how others can, as well. I originally wasn’t going to post this one, as it is a bit detailed for my life, but I feel like I should at least get a modified version online. I am admittedly a bit nervous about sharing this one. I hope you enjoy, and hopefully it helps someone out!

Let’s talk about discerning the Holy Ghost. It’s common to hear that we should learn to recognize Him, and obey His promptings, but how do we know when He’s speaking to us? I’ll share a little bit about mine.

For me, it comes in feelings — not in the sense of happy or sad, but a feeling like I should either do something or say something. If it’s something I should say, then the principle will come into me, but it’s up to me of how to communicate the specifics. At work [juvenile detention] sometimes, I’ll get the feeling like “I have to set a consequence or a punishment for what they did or didn’t do.” The words that come out focus around that idea, but I phrase it in my own way, how I think is the best way communicate. It’s possible that the exact words will come to me, but that’s generally an exception. Secondly, there’s a feeling that I need to *do* something. From this last week, an impression comes that I need to work on getting an internship, and that I should call this one place, right now or basically “soon.” I called, no one answered, but I left a voicemail. I thought that is unusual that I should feel this way. Then I realized that they are closed on Fridays, but I got a call back less than an hour later from someone. I can testify that Heavenly Father has a *perfect* sense of timing. There have been so many times where I’ve been in the right place at the right time, and it is too specific to be coincidence.

I can receive personal revelation through prayer, and it is hard for me because I have to be quiet and patient. It’ll start as I’ll occasionally get the feeling that Heavenly Father wants to tell me something. What works for me is I’ll do is sit on my bed and put my covers over my head so I don’t have any distractions — in general, it’s a good idea to reduce the amount of distractions as much as possible. If nothing comes to mind immediately of what I should be working on, I go down a list of things in my life that are going on, and ask if that’s something I should be focusing on or not, and if there’s any instructions for that. Generally when I reach something I should cover on, I stop and think for a little bit, and that’s when instruction, in the form of feelings again, comes to me. Again, the feeling is to *do* something. Sometimes it’s completely out of the realm of subjects we would normally think about, so it can take a little digging and thinking about each one in greater detail. For example, if I stop on the subject of school, I’ll start going over things that are going well, or not well, or maybe where I think He might want to tell me more about. The point is that I go slowly, and ponder each item individually for a few minutes.

One story is that a long time ago, I was renting an apartment, and because it was moderately priced, I got small one that had two bedrooms [context: I’m single]. My friend called me up one day and asked if he could stay with me for a bit, and I was totally fine with it. We were good friends, and it would be fun to have him around, and there’d be someone to spend time with. He stayed there for about three months, and I was helping him out by not charging him rent, as the cost I was paying wasn’t too high and I didn’t really mind since he was struggling a little bit. One day, though, I got the very strong impression that I should tell him that it was time for him to move out. Now, I’m not a fan of kicking people out of apartments, but the feeling was so intense that I knew I had to do it. I was really scared because it would seem rude and I didn’t want to offend my best friend. In addition, doing it required courage, a common element when the Holy Ghost tells me to do something. So, I basically went in his room and said, “I think it’s time for you to move out and find something else.” He took it well, agreed, and a few weeks later he did indeed find something else, and moved on with his life just fine. It wasn’t until much later I realized that he had probably been praying about what to do with his life, which direction to go, and I had probably helped to answer his prayer. That’s how it is with the Holy Ghost. I can’t think of a time in my life where God has told me the *reasons* that He is giving a commandment, but they tend to make themselves clear later on — usually much later. A lot of times, we may never know what influence we have on people. God wants to teach us to have faith, and part of that is being obedient even though things might not make sense at the time.

Going back to the lesson, do you have feelings that are indistinguishable from other ones? This is probably the most common way. We are surrounded by so much noise these days. I’ve got a mood disorder which makes me experience random feelings with no connection to actual events that would seemingly cause them. I also have OCD which comes with intrusive thoughts, so there is a lot of random stuff going on in my body that I don’t have control over. Over the years, and with medication, I have generally learned to cope and maintain some good stability. However, the Holy Ghost comes in on Its own frequency. Most of the time I can tell it’s Him speaking to me, and I’ve learned to develop a skill of listening so that I can usually tell if it is Him or not. You can always say a prayer and ask “was that You or just a thought in my head or a feeling running through my body?” If so, it will probably come with a confirmation (remember, the purpose of the Holy Ghost is also to testify the truth to us). Another thing that sometimes happens with me if I’m having trouble recognizing it, is it will come back again and again, until I feel certain it is Him. It has a specific wavelength, or channel, that I don’t feel things through other than that. It’s okay to ask God for confirmation!

The Lord often works in a binary format if we have a very specific question, in that He will often keep things simple and give us a “yes” or “no” impression. We can make a plan, and present it to Him and see if we should move forward or not. If there’s no answer, after we have diligently been searching, then that can mean that He is okay leaving it to our own judgment. He trusts us.

In therapy, one concept we use a lot is mindfulness [context, I’m studying psychology and social work in school to become a therapist]. That is, we become aware of our bodies. If we feel it in our body, there’s generally an emotion attached to it. So for example, if you are feeling anxious, your chest might tighten up and your arms go numb. You can lessen anxiety by rubbing your chest and calming down — it goes both ways. We can use mindfulness, that when we get a prompting or we think we do, we can stop and become mindful of where the feeling is coming from. That’s one way to zero in and learn to know if it’s from the Holy Ghost.

Another great way is to go to places or put yourself in situations where the Holy Ghost is going to be. Then when you feel that spark, make a memory of it. Understanding the Holy Ghost takes time, but one thing I’ve learned is that it is very, very consistent. The Lord definitely wants us to recognize it, and He’s probably using the same method over and over again. Some places we can put ourselves in and situations to be in are going to the temple, going to church, going home with the family, doing service, reading scriptures, or praying, either individually or with your wife or your family.

It’s not enough to feel the Holy Ghost, we need to also recognize and receive instruction. By acting on those instructions, we will have Him with us more. So many times in my life, God has told me to do something and my initial reaction would be “Yeah that’s not a bad idea, I might do that.” What if I were some 14th century theologian in the Dark Ages, and only *once* in my life I had what was certainly a spiritual experience where God told me to do something — my whole life might revolve around that entire instance, and I would cherish it forever. How often do we, with being baptized and given the gift of the Holy Ghost, can have these experiences all the time? We should be so happy that we do, and that they are frequent! We can pray for opportunities to hear the Holy Ghost, and we can pray for help to teach us to recognize messages from Him as well.

When I used to do mentoring with the community, I loved working with the kids. Years ago, I had four that I was assigned to work with individually, and it was a great experience. Three, I had worked with the organization to find a good match, and the fourth they had asked me to take on, myself. Now, I had (have) a lot of free time, so doing volunteer work was never a bother. In fact, I always enjoyed doing as much as I could. As the kids grew up and became more independent, they would need to or want to spend less time hanging out — they get jobs, girlfriends, gaming consoles, whatever. I fade out a bit, which is normal and natural. What I do in the mean time is think about getting another match, so I can find someone else to help out, since my time is freed up even more.

Wanting to get a new match wasn’t a big deal (at the end of my service, I actually ended up with eight kids total), but it was always a matter of timing. There were frequent times that I’d want to do it, but the feeling from the Holy Ghost was always “no, not right now, you need to wait.” And I was fine with that.

One night I had gone down for a road trip to see my parents on the other side of the State (Utah), and had had a good trip. One of my hobbies is that I like to explore all of Utah and visit every highway that I can, and just see where they go. It’s a great way to see what’s out there, and there’s a lot of scenic routes as well. As I was heading back home, I started thinking about getting a new match again, because my other kids were doing pretty much fine on their own, and I had so much more free time again. This time around, I did *not* have a feeling from the Holy Ghost that I should wait, and my response was, “wait a minute … does this mean it’s okay this time around?” I wondered about it, and while driving back, my mind just naturally switched topics and I went onto something else.

On the way back, I passed an exit to a highway that I had never been on, and since it was still daytime out, I wanted to drive down it and check it out. So I pulled off into the exit, got about a hundred yards down the road, and immediately felt an impression that I should stop. I wasn’t sure if it was the Holy Ghost or not, or just me (again, I have a mood disorder, so I have to take my time to discern). I thought to myself, “it’s probably fine,” and started driving again. I got the impression again that I needed to stop and not go down that road. I was wondering what the reason was, so I stopped my car and got out. Were my tires flat? Are there nails in the road? Should I have more food and water on me? I stood there kind of scratching my head, wondering what the reason was. The road looked perfectly fine, it was early afternoon and sunny so I could see everything okay. What could the reason possibly be? Everything looked okay, so I started driving one more time, and once again got the impression that I should stop and turn around. I finally decided that it was definitely God telling me not to go that way, so I stopped, turned around, and headed back to the interstate and resumed going home.

I spent a good time thinking about what the reasoning could be. It seemed strange to me, and I eventually settled on the decision that there was some reason I just couldn’t know about, and that was okay. I was a little bummed I couldn’t go exploring, but that’s okay, I’d rather not chance it anyway.

While continuing on the way home, though, I once again started thinking about getting a new match, and I realized that I definitely *did not* have a feeling that I should wait or postpone it. Since I had just had an experience where the Holy Ghost was obviously talking to me, I knew that I was able to discern instructions. That simple detour had given me the opportunity to think about another situation where God would intervene and tell me if something is right or not, and this time it was okay to go forward!

I ended up getting my fifth match, and it worked out great. He was a really fun kid to work with. We only got to spend time together for about a year, but it was a memorable experience. I’m really glad that I was able to do it.

Looking back now, I still wonder, was there something wrong with that highway? Or was God just teaching me to obey and be humble, and answering a more important question I had. I might not go down that highway ever again, but I’m grateful that that had happened to me.

I know that if we can learn to recognize the Holy Ghost, that God will direct us in paths and ways we certainly could not imagine. It’s a great opportunity we have, and I can’t recommend enough that was develop that skill. Heavenly Father will certainly help us, I know it’s important to Him, and so it’s important to me.


2 comments on “Recognizing the Holy Ghost

  1. GD

    this reminds me of Elder Holland’s story about following impressions at which road to take at a fork. Great stories and lesson, thanks!

  2. Scott

    There is nothing more important for us to learn than this one thing. Everything else we could ever need could be given to us through this one ability.


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