In the LDS church we often think of a spiritual experience as a dream or a vision or a distinct impression to take some action or a warning to avoid some course of action. These are the kinds of experiences that many church leaders have shared over the years as evidence of God’s interest in us and our welfare. A classic example is the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead as found in section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
However, the spiritual experiences I am most familiar with are those that come with the exercise of the gifts of the spirit. For example, when I am asked to teach or to speak in church I make it a matter of prayer and sometimes fasting. I ask the Lord for inspiration in knowing what to prepare and what he would have me say. I then practice my remarks and ask the Lord specifically for the gift of teaching or the gift of speaking under the influence of the spirit.
The spirit gives utterance
The Lord answers my prayer, sends his spirit and I feel that what I have prepared is acceptable and pleasing to Him. When I deliver the prepared remarks, I feel his spirit working through me giving me confidence and helping me to emphasize certain points and to appropriately pause in other places. Speaking in Sacrament meeting is absolutely my favorite thing in life to do. I look forward to it more than anything else. Seriously! It is a spiritual feast.
I have had similar experiences in speaking extemporaneously and in teaching from an outline with some prepared quotes. I feel the same inspiration in offering a prayer or when asked to share a spiritual thought in a meeting or when I give a priesthood blessing or when I lead my family in prayer. There is no doubt in my mind that the Spirit of the Lord is influencing me and helping me to perform righteous endeavors.
The spirit bears witness in testimony
I have never seen any visions or heard any voices from the spirit world, but I have heard the voice of the Lord in my mind and the whisperings of the spirit on occasion are very strong and recognizable. I have also seen the spirit of the Lord work powerfully on the youth of the church as they stand to bear their testimonies in front of their peers in our local singles ward. I have witnessed revelation in action as these young people speak from their hearts.
I have also had experiences with feeling that I have been led in my genealogical searches, finding specific individuals. My mother was blessed with this gift as well. I always feel the spirit of the Lord in the temple as I participate in the ordinances there for those living on the other side of the veil. I have been blessed with the spirit of discernment where the Lord has revealed to me when someone is lying or withholding something.
The spirit causes us to rejoice
I have felt the presence of the Lord when I sing in the ward choir. I have been blessed with the ability to discern the presence of evil spirits. The Lord has helped me through his spirit to control myself when faced with difficult, annoying and emotionally charged situations. I know some people claim to be able to see evil spirits. I don’t. But I have no doubt that they are real. I have been attacked by them on many occasions, both directly and through others.
I could go on and on. I don’t think I am any different from most members of the church who have been blessed with the gift of the Holy Ghost. It truly is a gift that helps us in just about every endeavor of our life where we ask for help. The gifts of the spirit come through faith. “It is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased…it is because of unbelief…” (Moroni 7:37)
The spirit comes to us in prayer
I have also specifically been blessed with what I consider to be rich and powerful spiritual manifestations in prayer that are too sacred to share, mainly because I do not have the words to describe what happened. I suppose it could be best described as the presence of the comforter revealing the love of the Lord to my heart and mind in a manner that is sure and undeniable. In an earlier essay, I wrote about one specific experience like this from my youth.
My patriarchal blessing promises me the gift of faith. I am convinced that I have had this gift from the earliest days of my youth. I have never doubted the truthfulness of what I have been taught. Even when I discovered what some would consider shocking things in our early church history, I have felt the Spirit of the Lord whisper peace to my soul. The Lord has poured out his spirit upon me so many times when I needed it because of this gift of faith.
The spirit is manifest in the leaders
But, when I think of spiritual experiences that church leaders have shared, I think of visions and dreams that seemed to be much more common in the early days of the church, especially with Joseph and Brigham and others of the early leaders. I have no doubt that such manifestations are received in our day as well, but they certainly are not talked about openly as much as they were back then. I don’t know why. Perhaps they have been ridiculed even by the members.
An exception would be the 1978 revelation on the priesthood, the receipt and confirmation of which were described so well by several members of the quorum of the twelve, especially Bruce R. McConkie. I also specifically recall President Kimball’s vision of taking the gospel to all the world. It was a powerful motivating factor in my life. I could see the spirit of the Lord resting upon President Kimball as he described his vision. I caught that vision by the same spirit.
Summary and conclusion
Every day can be a spiritual experience, especially as it begins and end in prayer. I know we can have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost in our lives. The promise is real and the Lord is willing to fulfill it according to our diligence and heed in listening to and following the constant promptings of the Holy Ghost. As long as we do not drive the spirit away by disobedience or by not doing as we are prompted, the Holy Ghost will continue to work with us.
I know the Lord wants us to use the gift of the Holy Ghost to bless our lives and the lives of others and to prepare us for a glorious entry into the spirit world when our work in this world is completed. I also know that the Lord is preparing his people for the Second Coming. I have no doubt that it draws closer and closer each day. May we be blessed to live by the spirit and to walk in the light as God walks in the light. By doing so we can and will be happy.
Source: Expanded from comments I left on Jared’s blog: LDS Alive in Christ