In Star Wars Episode VII: The seasoned veteran Han Solo discusses strategy for infiltrating an enemy base with the young, ex-stormtrooper Finn:
Han Solo: What was your job when you were based here?
Han Solo: Sanitation? Then how do you know how to disable the shields?
Finn: I don't. I'm just here to get Rey.
Han Solo: People are counting on us. The galaxy is counting on us.
Finn: Solo, we'll figure it out. We'll use the Force.
Han Solo: That's not how the Force works!
Finn has some learning to do about the “mystical energy field that controls [his] destiny” over the next couple of movies. I like Star Wars analogies, but won’t be submitting you to any more during this talk.
Personal revelation as received through the Holy Ghost forms a rock upon which the church stands, but what does that even mean?
Matthew 16 (after feeding the 4k, warn against doctrine of Pharisees and Sadducees):
13 ¶ When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Christ built his church on the rock of revelation, but can we define that any better? From that account we know it does not come from flesh and blood, and that it comes from God (like everything does). Some people might say a revelation comes from “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.“
How can we recognize it in our own lives? In answer to the question, “How do we recognize the promptings of the Spirit?” President Gordon B. Hinckley read Moroni 7:13, 16–17
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.
Then President Hinckley said: “That’s the test, when all is said and done. Does it persuade one to do good, to rise, to stand tall, to do the right thing, to be kind, to be generous? Then it is of the Spirit of God. …
“If it invites to do good, it is of God. If it inviteth to do evil, it is of the devil. … And if you are doing the right thing and if you are living the right way, you will know in your heart what the Spirit is saying to you.
“You recognize the promptings of the Spirit by the fruits of the Spirit—that which enlighteneth, that which buildeth up, that which is positive and affirmative and uplifting and leads us to better thoughts and better words and better deeds is of the Spirit of God” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 260–61).
So, the Spirit is not flesh and blood, comes from God, persuades us to do good, and does not invite us to do evil. That’s progress, but still not a something I can really get behind as a definition. How do I know what it sounds like?
1 Kings 19:11-12 (Elijah hiding from Jezebel, goes to Horeb, feels lonely and depressed):
11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
We get a few more negative definitions here: the Spirit was not in the strong wind, the earthquake, or the fire. However, we also get a positive definition: a still small voice. So the Spirit is a still small voice that entices us to do good.
“The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all. (No wonder that the Word of Wisdom was revealed to us, for how could the drunkard or the addict feel such a voice?)
“Occasionally it will press just firmly enough for us to pay heed. But most of the time, if we do not heed the gentle feeling, the Spirit will withdraw and wait until we come seeking and listening and say in our manner and expression, like Samuel of ancient times, ‘Speak [Lord], for thy servant heareth.’ (1 Sam. 3:10.)” (“The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 53).
Do you remember that story? 1 Samuel 3:
1 And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.
2 And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see;
3 And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep;
4 That the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.
5 And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down.
6 And the Lord called yet again, Samuel. And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And he answered, I called not, my son; lie down again.
7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, neither was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him.
8 And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the Lord had called the child.
9 Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth.
Let’s look at what we can learn from this story. Samuel lived righteously, so he gave himself the opportunity. He heard a voice and he did not recognize it at first. I note that he got more than one shot here! We want to get so that we can recognize and respond at the first prompting, but the Lord helps us learn and understands. I’ve found this in my own life.
I also find Eli’s behavior interesting here. First, the teaching opportunity didn’t come when it was convenient. It didn’t even come when Eli was awake! He also missed it the first couple of times, pretty understandably I would say. But he got it in the end, and helped Samuel along the path to becoming a prophet.
Aside from working in the tabernacle and adopting a future prophet, what can we do to help others around us to learn to recognize the Spirit?
“You cannot force spiritual things. Such words as compel, coerce, constrain, pressure, demand, do not describe our privileges with the Spirit. You can no more force the Spirit to respond than you can force a bean to sprout, or an egg to hatch before its time. You can create a climate to foster growth, nourish, and protect; but you cannot force or compel: you must await the growth” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 53).
That patience is extremely difficult, especially for those we love and care for. It might be tempting to use a shortcut and attempt to manipulate people into feeling the Spirit.
President Howard W. Hunter offered this counsel: “Let me offer a word of caution. … I think if we are not careful … , we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself” (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, 184). The Spirit of the Lord always edifies.
So we cannot force people to feel the Spirit and we should not confuse strong emotions with the Spirit (they’re orthogonal). So what do we do?
I like how Alma taught it to the poor Zoramites on the hill Onidah:
27 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, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
That makes sense to me as an engineer and scientist. We can do experiments: plant the seed and see how it goes. If we want to help others, help them plant more seeds, and tell them about your experience with planting seeds.
That scripture also describes how the Spirit feels according to Alma: swelling within your breast, enlargening your soul, enlightening your understanding, and being delicious. That’s pretty close to how I feel the Spirit in my life, but the simplest definition can be found in D&C 50, the Lord’s constitution on teaching:
22 Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.
I know that I’m feeling the Spirit when I feel edified, when I feel built up. I felt that during my preparation of this talk, [I felt it at points while delivering the talk], and I hope you felt it too.