A couple years ago, I went to see a concert for a band I listened to in High School. Ministry started out as a New-Wave band in the 80’s and eventually adopted a heavier, harder sound until they were full-on industrial punk. Quite cathartic. I went with three friends; Wade, Chet, and the Holy Ghost.
I grew up learning that the Holy Ghost was easily offended, that he wouldn’t go into certain places and that he went to bed early. But He had been with me in many difficult situations and, in fact, he came to me whenever I thought of him. In a party with loud music where people were drinking, in a bar with friends from school, at an R-rated movie, etc. I realized that my experiences with the Holy Ghost were different than what I had been taught. What kind of friend bails out at the first sign of trouble? Especially one who has been assigned to help.
The Holy Ghost communicates in very personal ways. As we pursue an understanding of the Gospel, there are many who are willing to tell us how the Holy Ghost might, or even should feel, but what happens when personal experience is different from what we are told? There is so much information and communication that we are constantly being bombarded with, how can we hear the “still, small voice” above the ruckus? The Scriptures offer some valuable information. The Biblical prophet John reports in John 14: 26, that Jesus promised his nervous and uncertain disciples, when he was gone, he would send the Holy Ghost to give them comfort, to teach them new truths, and to help them remember the things they had already learned from Him. The Book Of Mormon prophet Moroni proposes the well-known experiment: when we are seeking truth we can ask for it. His hypothesis is that if we ask with intent, faith, and hope, we will find it. Neither Moroni nor John presumes to tell us how we will feel when we discover genuine truth, only that he Holy Ghost will deliver it. Moroni offers the additional hope that the Holy Ghost will tell us the truth of all things.
The Holy Ghost communicates through emotions. He may lead us to evidence, but evidence is only valuable in relation to how we feel about it. There are many who are willing to ignore seemingly obvious evidence because of the way they feel about it. I’m sure you’ve already thought of an example. A group of people who witness an event together will give different accounts of what happened based on sensory perceptions. Sensual memory fades quickly and is often eclipsed by emotion. The same group will be able to easily describe how they felt and emotional memory is strong, which is why the Spirit communicates that way.
There is an opposing force. Many believe that Satan is the opposite of Christ but I think that gives him too much credit and that he really doesn’t have that much power. If the Spirit speaks to our emotions through our thoughts, (D&C 8:2) then Satan seeks to counter this influence. “One of the major techniques of the Devil is to cause human beings to think they are following Gods ways, when in reality they are deceived…” (Bible Dictionary) With opposing forces seeking to influence our emotions, figuring out who’s who can be confusing. The scriptures offer some simple guidance, but in the end, spiritual communication is intimately personal and no-one can really say how it is going to feel for you. Here is a scripture that has helped me to make sense of it:
12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
Here’s how it works for me: Sometimes, without provocation, I am encompassed with a wave of emotion. Peace, love from God, love for fellow-men, confidence, gratitude. It is never intrusive or disruptive; it always feels natural. Sometimes, but not always, it comes with a message like: “You’re doing it right” or “She could use your help” or “It’s gonna be okay, I love you”. When I pray for guidance I often just open my mind to God and the communication comes. Hinduism teaches the principle of “Param Atama” or “Super Soul” which means that, as we turn to God with devotion, he will dispel the darkness of ignorance with the light of knowledge from within our hearts. I don’t feel answers in my heart, but in a specific place in my head, above and a little behind my right ear. I know it’s weird, don’t judge. The consistency is important for me. Since I’ve practiced and refined this process for years, it has become easy for me. I recognize spiritual communication and I always get an answer to my prayers. Yes, always. I don’t feel smug or arrogant about that- I feel grateful. I don’t judge you if you don’t. I’m sure that God deals with each of us differently and individually. The point of this article is to give some suggestions for how you can make a more personal spiritual connection with God.
The answers I get depend on the questions I ask. I usually “reason it out in [my] mind” first, and just ask for a yes-or-no. Easy. Yes or no answers are clear and obvious but sometimes the answer is: “it doesn’t really matter, You work it out”. Sometimes, I have no idea and I’ll ask for a nudge in the right direction. Often, I’ll find that I knew the answer all along and The Spirit delivers reassurance. The Divine was already in me. In his book “Blink” Malcolm Gladwell says it like this:
“…we are not helpless in the face of our first impressions. They may bubble up from the unconscious – from behind a locked door inside of our brain – but just because something is outside of awareness doesn’t mean it’s outside of control.”
Other times, for more general questions like “How does the Atonement work and why is it important?” the answers come gradually, over time. Answers come from the Scriptures or the internet, conversations, meditation, dreams or ANY way I am willing to pay attention.
Many people get confused trying to discern genuine spiritual communication from it’s many counterfeits. I’ve found further clarity by determining some emotions that do not come from the Holy Ghost: Fear, Guilt and Uncertainty.
Fear is a no-brainer. It is one of the most effective tools of destruction.
When it comes to guilt, I make a distinction between (A) the feeling that what we are thinking/ doing is distracting us or leading us away from spiritual well-being, and (B) the gnawing hopeless regret that can be a crippling detriment to spiritual progress. (A) comes from the Holy Ghost like a light on the path while (B) is Satanic.
Uncertainty comes as a natural and essential part of the learning process. As we learn, we move through four phases that also apply to spiritual progress.
1) Unconscious incompetence: “I am not aware that I can’t do something”.
2) Conscious incompetence: “I am aware that I can’t do something”.
3) Conscious competence: “I know how to do something”
4) Unconscious competence: “I can do something without thinking”.
Uncertainty comes in stages two and three and it can motivate us to search for truth, but dwelling there can keep us from continuing spiritual progress. The Spirit will help us feel confident about positive action, peace in the midst of turmoil and hope for further light and knowledge. It can help us feel the love of God and unity with our fellow-man.
In a dimly lit club, in the pulsing crowd, I danced to the heavy beat. It wasn’t a gentle dance. As I bumped and crashed into the people around me, one of the other dancers was knocked to the ground. The sympathetic crowd pushed back a small space and as the song ended, I offered my hand. He grabbed it, cursed and jumped to his feet. “That was effing awesome!” he exclaimed as he put an arm around my shoulders and raised his other fist into the air. “This is unity;” taught the Holy Ghost in the middle of a rowdy, mostly drunk crowd as a feeling of love washed over me. “This is brotherhood.”