The Lord is pouring out his spirit

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

A call for more personal revelation

While serving as a missionary in Central America in 1976, we taught the people how important it was to receive personal revelation. If there was anything we brought up in every discussion, it was the need for the individuals we were teaching to have private personal experiences with the spirit of the Lord in prayer. Each time we met we would ask, “have you prayed about what you are reading in the Book of Mormon?”

That would immediately get to the point. With one question we could tell if they were reading and if they were praying. Sometimes we would phrase the request as, “tell me how you have felt as you have prayed about the Book of Mormon.” Yes, it put the people on the spot but we were bold missionaries and that was our job – to invite people to discover the truth for themselves.

By their response we knew if we were being effective in our efforts. We could usually sense if they had any questions and just how sincere they were in accepting our challenge to read and to pray. We often encountered people who said they read but didn’t understand. We would then discuss the importance of prayer. That was sometimes a difficult obstacle to overcome in that predominantly Catholic part of the world. They simply didn’t know how to pray.

Gospel study is always better with prayer

When I first started studying Mormon history, I was a young lad with a lot of simple faith. Yes, I had grown up in the church and had been through Primary and Sunday School but was now in a Doctrine and Covenants class in Seminary. I was fascinated with the background behind the revelations and was always wanting to know more than I was being taught from the official curriculum. The teacher didn’t always know the answers to my questions.

I have written previously about my early experience in learning about seer stones, and the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society, about Joseph’s plural wives and what really happened in Carthage jail. I learned the rest of the story of these and many other difficult things not from the seminary teacher but from my mother, or more accurately, from the history books she gave me. Mother always invited me to pray about the material she gave me to read.

I confess that I usually didn’t pray about what I read back then. I trusted my mother. If she felt comfortable enough to give me a book to read then it must contain something she believed. It was later in life when I studied the same material as I prepared to teach seminary that I added that depth of specific prayer to my efforts. The prayer was usually something like, “Heavenly Father, how can I teach this material in a faith-promoting way?”

The preparation for the prayer

When I was preparing for my mission, I was blessed with a six-month period of time when I was not working or going to school. I spent every day for six months doing nothing but studying the doctrines and the history of the church and going out with the missionaries to teach it. I even went to zone conferences and had interviews with the mission president. I was totally and completely immersed in studying and teaching the gospel before I was a missionary.

There were so many times I would look up and realize that I would be late to go out with the missionaries unless I put the books down and got ready. There was never enough time to explore all the facets of the topic I had chosen for myself to study that day. I remember reading Cleon Skousen‘s commentaries of the Old Testament during this time. Although he sure added a lot of personal conjecture, it was easy reading and I consumed it in a few short weeks.

When I got to the Doctrine and Covenants I found a volume that just enthralled me and kept me on the edge of my seat in anticipation of discovering what marvelous manifestations would come to the prophet next. My copy of the 864-page D&C Commentary from Hyrum M. Smith is marked just as much as my scriptures. I still can’t believe that I read it in less than two months. It was from this apostle that I learned the faithful history behind the revelations.

The prayer behind the study

It was during this intense six months of gospel study that I received some of the most profound personal revelation of my young life. I had a testimony. I knew the church was true. I knew that the Lord loved me, but now I wanted to know if what I was studying in church history was being accurately portrayed in the material I was reading. I felt that I had a right to put the Book of Mormon promise to the test on the contents of this book from Hyrum Smith.

On two specific occasions during this six month period of time, I determined in my heart that I was going to fast and pray until I had a revelation and knew for myself how the Lord felt about what I had been studying. I hungered and thirsted for this revelation like nothing I had ever wanted before in my life up to that time. Without revealing personal details, I was also fasting and praying for a manifestation from the Lord concerning my standing before Him.

On the third day of my fast, I that night determined that I would not sleep until I had received what I wanted. I remembered the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord until he gave him a blessing. That was the feeling I had as I prayed. It was an intense struggle. Enos has nothing on me. I raised my voice in prayer with an intensity and passion that I don’t think I have felt since. It was an emotional and exhausting experience.

The revelation during the prayer

We are often counseled in the church to not share intimate details of personal revelation. Over the years I have seen the wisdom in this counsel. There is no way I can describe everything that happened to me that night as I fasted and prayed. No, I did not see visions. No, I did not hear voices. But I can tell you that I was immersed in the spirit and received knowledge in a way that I had never experienced before. I cannot explain how it happened. I only know that it did.

I asked the Lord specifically if what I was studying in Church History was true. I asked Him, I pleaded with Him to manifest to me that what I had just read in the 864-page D&C Commentary really happened the way it was written. The answer that I received was surprising. First came the impression, or rather knowledge, that my sacrifice in fasting and prayer was acceptable along with a manifestation of the pure love of the Lord that was just infinite and eternal.

And then came the surprising part. It was this: “No, the book you just read did not contain everything that happened in church history. A lot of it was left out. It was written with the intent to encourage faith. You will discover many more things in the years to come. But know this, whatever you learn, you can always rely on this one thing: Joseph did not tell everything he knew and neither can you. Some things you can only receive in faith-filled prayer.”

The effects of the revelation

And just like that it was over. After months of study and preparation that included service as a local missionary, and then three days of fasting and prayer and intense struggle before the Lord, I knew more in a few seconds of direct revelation that I had from all my personal study. I had made notes. I had made outlines. I had prepared talks and lessons. I had it down in my mind as far as an intellectual understanding, but it was nothing compared to that revelation.

Did I receive personal revelation? Yes, I absolutely did. The voice was heard without having to come through my ears. I did not mistake it as being my own voice or my own thoughts. There was just no way it could have been anything but from the Lord. It was unmistakable. I could not doubt it. I never have and I never will. I know that I will be held accountable for it, meaning that when I face the Lord, we will both know that he spoke clearly to me on that night.

Am I wise or foolish in sharing this very personal story? You will have to be the judge of that. Those who have not experienced revelation will mock and ridicule. That is way we are counseled to not share sacred things like this in a public forum. If we were sitting in the same room and I told you this story I could watch your reaction carefully to note the reception. But because so much of what I write is about church history and doctrine, I felt this was important to share.

Summary and conclusion

The kind of knowledge I have written about goes against the methods of man in obtaining understanding of something. With that one experience so many years ago, I can say with confidence that I entered a different aspect of the world of revelation. That was not the first and not the last revelation I have received, but it was one of the most powerful. Because of this one event in my life, I have never doubted the history of the church and never will.

It distresses me to read of so many on the internet who do not understand our history. Because of that lack of understanding, they dismiss the doctrines that were received by revelation of a prophet of God. They also throw out the blessings that come from believing and following a prophet, seer and revelator. Joseph Smith saw what he said he saw. He received revelation and shared it with the world as he was commanded, but he did not share everything.

You can only know of some things that Joseph wanted to teach when you ask the Lord to reveal them to you directly. That is what Bruce R. McConkie tried to teach us. If we want to know what Joseph knew, we must do what he did and live as he did. No I’m not advocating plural marriage or suggesting that you start a church. But I am inviting you to immerse yourself in a faith-filled study of the doctrines and history and then ask the Lord for more.

I promise you that He will provide more as he sees fit – in His own due time and in His own way.

Benefits of LDS blogging

I was asked by a BYU public relations research student on behalf of the More Good Foundation to explain why I blog on LDS topics. I have been thinking about the answers I provided and thought they might be helpful for others to share them here. I want to encourage members of the church to add their voice to the community, especially if you are thinking about a solo blog.

I began my blog last year in an effort to provide commentary on the news and political events from an LDS perspective. My original intent was to comment on the attention the church has been receiving because of Mitt Romney. It bothered me to see so many pundits online spouting stuff about what we believe when they really had no idea, or were sadly mistaken in their views.

My blog has now evolved into a vehicle for essays on various doctrinal issues that trouble some people. It changed when Elder Ballard invited the members of the church to be more active in the new media. I wonder if he wasn’t thinking of all the garbage that we read in the comments on just about every story related to the church on the Deseret News or now on Mormon Times.

How and when I blog

Depending on my work load, I write three or four essays a week, early in the morning or late at night. Some essays are difficult and can take several hours of research, while others I may ponder for days. I decide which topics to write about based on comments from others on my blog or other LDS sites. I also blog specifically to motivate me to study the gospel each day.

I read a lot of what other LDS bloggers are writing about, especially those who address the doctrine. I also read some of the more popular anti-Mormon or Ex-Mormon sites to find the troubling issues. It has been a lot of fun to answer some of their objections, even if only for myself. I did not really expect to get as many people reading or commenting as I have already.

I also think I have a somewhat unique perspective on the church because I am a California Mormon. My family converted in the sixties so I grew up in the church but I do not have the social and cultural background of coming from a long line of Utah LDS families. My wife does have that cultural heritage which richly rounds out my views that can be somewhat liberal.

Three specific benefits

Writing these essays helps me to share the gospel and prepares me to be able to answer difficult objections. I am by no means an LDS apologist but I have great respect for the work of those who are. Jeff Lindsay is a hero of sorts to me. So are people like Russell Anderson and W. John Walsh of LightPlanet and Dr. Daniel C. Peterson of FARMS, now the Neal A. Maxwell Institute.

Preparing essays motivates me to study and present the gospel in greater depth than I have in the past. Carol and I are taking an Institute class on the Pearl of Great Price here in our stake. No, we are not college age, but immersing ourselves in the scriptures, writing about it on my blog and then discussing it with the students in our Young Adult ward is a great benefit and blessing.

The interaction I receive with other participants of social media, particularly other LDS bloggers is especially rewarding. I have no lofty ideas about really answering the critics of the church. They have no desire to know the truth. I write for those who are struggling and who want to know if there really are answers for the difficult questions. The answer is a resounding yes.

Blogging is more than intellectual

The primary benefit I receive from blogging is feeling better prepared through study to answer objections, even dishonest ones. For example, my essay on the Adam-God theory started as a short three-hour draft that was ripped apart by several readers as being misleading. I spent two days researching and revising it, gaining personal insight and confidence in my position.

Because of this research and preparation, I feel more confident to take on future difficult gospel questions or objections. In being prepared, I eliminate doubts and fears from my own life; I feel like I have more faith. In studying and blogging in this way, my testimony is strengthened; my love for my Heavenly Father and my Savior grow. I see the hand of the Lord more in my life.

I have always been interested in the doctrine more than the history, social or cultural aspects of the church. My mother was converted because of the doctrine, specifically because of our very unique doctrine of temple work and associated family history. So I blog more about the doctrine than anything else. My life’s ambition is to understand and teach it like Bruce R. McConkie.

LDS Blogging is a blessing

Studying and writing about LDS doctrine increases my testimony and love for God and Christ. As my love grows for my Heavenly Father and the Savior, I feel more loving towards others. Difficult situations become less of a challenge. I have greater empathy and understanding and can appreciate what others are going through as they face their challenges in life.

Studying the gospel, preparing essays and sharing them in my blog bring me a feeling of satisfaction that I am doing something worthwhile. As I have written many times, nobody has really asked me to do this, but I feel impressed that it is pleasing to my Heavenly Father. I know that blogging about doctrine is not for everybody, but it seems to be my focus right now.

I have received much feedback that my essays are appreciated and doing good to help strengthen the testimony of others. Someday, I hope to read someone say that they joined the church or began to participate more fully, perhaps partially because of what I have written. That will be one of the most satisfying things to me in this world or the world to come.

Another visit to the spirit world

I am fascinated with the spirit world. I never tire of learning more about it. Although I have been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all my life, I have barely scratched the surface of understanding what the Lord has revealed on this subject already. In reading the Pearl of Great Price this morning, the subject of the spirit world came up again.

I have pondered on the idea of where the dead go many, many times over the years. It might be helpful to review what it is that Mormons believe about life after death. First, we believe that the spirit world is all around us, right here on the earth. Although God, our Heavenly Father is not limited to this earth, the spirits of those who have died remain here and are around us.

For some who may have never pondered this before, it can be a little disconcerting and causes them to feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless, it is true and has been taught by almost every prophet of the restoration since Joseph Smith first revealed it. Summarizing Alma 40:11-14 in the Book of Mormon, we learn that the land of the dead is divided up into paradise and hell.

The spirit world defined

Paradise is the abode of the righteous and hell is the dwelling place of the wicked. I know, this is basic stuff but it is fundamental to understand. In the days before the death of Christ these two worlds were separated by a great gulf. Those in paradise did not mingle with those suffering in hell. By the way, these two parts of the spirit world are only temporary until the resurrection.

When the Savior visited the spirit world in between his death and resurrection he bridged the gap between the two worlds. Those who were righteous were given assignments to visit those who were wicked with the express purpose of teaching them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, they were given the opportunity to learn to exercise faith and to prove themselves obedient.

Joseph Smith taught, “Hades, Sheol, paradise, spirits in prison, are all one: it is a world of spirits. The righteous and the wicked all go to the same world of spirits until the resurrection.” He also said that the spirits of the just are not far from us. When we leave this world, we go out with the same spirit that we have here. We will have the same desires and beliefs when we get there.

The righteous dead can help us

As we know everyone will die some day, it seems to me that understanding this would be a topic of intense interest for all who desire to know what lies ahead and where we are going. We do not have to wait until we get there to discover what it is really like. There is so much revealed on the subject that we can be prepared for our entry there with anticipation and without surprise.

The great work of the spirit world is the preaching of the gospel to those who are imprisoned by sin and false traditions. The faithful elders who depart this life continue their labors of salvation for those who are in the spirit world. They share the gospel of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance of sins and false beliefs and the ordinance of vicarious baptism for the remission of those sins.

Loved ones who reside on the other side of the veil are very interested in helping us accomplish righteous purposes in this life. On occasion, they are allowed to influence us and inspire us in ways that we do not fully understand. We speak of the whisperings of the spirit. I wonder if sometimes those whisperings aren’t feelings that we receive from those who want to help us.

The influence of wicked spirits

In like manner, those who left this world with evil intent and desires of wickedness may also have more influence on those of like mind and heart still in this world than we sometimes think. I do not believe that the wicked who die just curl up in a corner and are out of the picture until the time comes that they are called forth by the Lord to the resurrection and final judgment.

I am convinced that some of the ideas for wicked creations and evil things that come forth from the mind and heart of man are really placed there by those who yearn to have a body again. I also have seen, as you probably have, how men and women can be influenced by evil spirits right in the middle of a conversation. It all depends on what spirit to which they are inclined to listen.

Now, not all of these kinds of thoughts come from evil spirits. Many come right from the mind of man. But don’t discount the idea that evil spirits can affect man. It’s not just an old sectarian notion. Perhaps an example from church history will illustrate that there are those on the other side of the veil who do not like what the Lord’s servants are doing here upon the earth.

Heber C. Kimball – vision of the devils

“…a vision was opened to our minds, and we could distinctly see the evil spirits, who foamed and gnashed their teeth at us. We gazed upon them about an hour and a half. . . . We were not looking towards the window, but towards the wall. Space appeared before us, and we saw the devils coming in legions, with their leaders, who came within a few feet of us.

“They came towards us like armies rushing to battle. They appeared to be men of full stature, possessing every form of feature of men in the flesh, who were angry and desperate; and I shall never forget the vindictive malignity depicted on their countenances as they looked me in the eye; and any attempt to paint the scene which then presented itself, or portray their malice and enmity, would be vain.

“I perspired exceedingly, my clothes becoming as wet as if I had been taken out of the river. I felt excessive pain, and was in the greatest distress for some time. I cannot even look back on the scene without feelings of horror; yet by it I learned the power of the adversary, his enmity against the servants of God, and got some understanding of the invisible world.

“We distinctly heard those spirits talk and express their wrath and hellish designs against us. However, the Lord delivered us from them and blessed us exceedingly that day.” [Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1888), p. 143–145] Quoted by S. Olani Durrant in Cliff Walking, BYU Speeches 1984.

Avoid things that invite the evil spirits

It never ceases to amaze me how many are naïve when it comes to understanding these things. They either do not believe it, deny it or ridicule it. “Devils? Hah! Evil Spirits? No such thing!” A full forty percent of the members of the church do not believe in the devil or evil spirits. Apparently they do not really believe the doctrine that we teach.

There are some activities we should avoid because they invite the devils into our lives. It has been my experience that the adversary is being especially effective in reaching the young men through video games that are focused on murder, evil and the occult. I hope that mothers of our boys will be careful about what games they buy for our young men.

I have also seen firsthand evidence of how the pursuit of “recreational” drug use can and does bring the influence of devils into the lives of those we love. A sweet and innocent young man can turn into a vicious, mean and selfish animal by participating in the drug culture and partaking of substances that open their souls to let the devils get inside.

Summary and conclusion

There are individuals who are spiritually sensitive and can perceive the presence and influence of spirits from the world around us. Most of us do not see or hear anything. It is just something we feel. We can tell you when someone is under the influence of a wicked spirit or two, sometimes just by their behavior or attitude. It can be painful.

And then there are times that we know we are receiving impressions from the spirit of the Lord or from messengers he has sent to help us. The Lord can answer our prayers any way he wants to. Sometimes, flashes of inspiration and ideas flow into our mind after we have asked for help in solving a problem or understanding something that is difficult.

I am not the only member of the church who is familiar with the things of the spirit world. It is a large part of my life. There are many things we know but just don’t share because they are too sacred. However, I know that the spirit world is real. I know that we can and are influenced by those living beyond the veil – either for good or for evil.

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