Saturday, August 12, 2017

Seeking the Influence of the Spirit


The following is a talk that I gave in church this July (2017).  I usually don't write out full talks like this but since I did this time I thought I'd share it here. For more good reading check out some of the linked sources at the bottom as well!
 
It is no surprise to many of you that this last year has been a bumpy one for me.  Full of moves, and changes, and a new baby, and depression, and growth.  My relationship with my Heavenly Parents and with the Spirit has been challenged, and stretched, and I found myself very emotional as I tried to write down in words the experiences and feelings of despair and deliverance that have been so prevalent over the last few months.  

I’m usually a pretty off the cuff speaker.  I would usually show up with a few bullet points and a handful of quotes but given the emotions I feel on this topic I’ve opted to write this talk out in its entirety.

In Enos he tells us of his wrestle before God.  We can learn about this experience in the Book of Mormon institute manual. It reads: “Enos did not wrestle with God. The record states that Enos wrestled before God in prayer. Such wrestling is the struggle to find and express one’s real desires under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Praying in this manner requires that a person eliminate vain, trite, or insincere repetitions and to pour the deepest desires of his or her heart into words. Each phrase becomes an expression of yearning and desire to do God’s will. Such prayers are assisted and guided by the Holy Spirit, “for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).  

This last year for me has been a wrestle before God.  I have struggled to figure out what I want, need and what to ask Him for.  I’ve struggled at times to see the blessings and talents given to me.  I’ve struggled to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost.  I’ve struggled to let go of vanity and of my own limiting judgements. But through all of these struggles I have been assisted by the Spirit and have been shown many tender mercies.

How many of you have felt this wrestle?  A desire to change might be met with the daily demands that keep us stuck in a routine.  A desire to learn might be met with a physical exhaustion that closes down our minds.  Sometimes it may even seem the harder we work the less we harvest.  We work extra hard to get our family to church for some spiritual nourishment and then spend all of sacrament meeting in and out with children.  We spend extra time on our calling assignments only to receive an email from someone who is frustrated with us and thinks we are doing it all completely wrong. Maybe we spend extra time in the scriptures in search of an answer only to be left with 5 new unanswered questions.  

And so we come tired and broken to the feet of our Heavenly Parents in prayer.  And maybe some struggle to be honest with themselves about what they need to change. And maybe some struggle to be able to articulate the desires of their heart.  And maybe some are held back by feelings of shame. And maybe some are struggling to believe that Heavenly Father is even there. And this is when the Spirit can enter and make an intercession for us with the Father.

He not only helps Heavenly Father communicate with us, he helps us communicate with Heavenly Father.  The feelings he brings to us may be feelings of comfort, remembrance or inspiration.  These feelings help us to pray more fervently and directly and they also help us to receive answers.  This is called revelation.  Although the Spirit will do this for each of us it is important to recognize that it will be done differently for each person- not because the Spirit is different but because we are.

It is true that some instructions will be the same for all but the implementation will vary.  We should all seek the Spirit through prayer but it will be a different prayer for each person.  The place we pray, the time we pray, the content and duration of our prayers will be different.  Some will add meditation.  Some will ponder in a quiet room and some will ponder on their daily run.  Some will commune with God in nature. Some prayers will involve words while others seem to be unspeakable prayers directly from the feelings of our heart.

We can all seek the Spirit through scripture study. But again the time of day, duration of study, subject matter, highlighter color preference, etc. will be different for each person. Some will read it all at once. Some will read a little throughout the day. Some will listen to scriptures on cd in their car. Some will add conference talks. Some will add historical references and biographies.  Some will memorize the scriptures while others will focus more on the overall impressions they receive.

It’s important that we don’t judge or criticize these differences just because someone does something differently than you do.  We don’t need to compare our effort to other’s efforts.  We should refrain from giving overly specific advice about exactly how long something should be done for, or what time of day it must be accomplished.  I love to hear examples and get ideas of what has worked for other people but I know that not all ideas will work for me or my family.  So I take what I need and leave the rest.  And we need to make sure that we give other people opportunities to do the same when we offer them advice. 

One last caution would be to refrain from always giving people the same answers of just pray more or read your scriptures more.  We should not assume that trials only come to those who don’t seek the influence of the Spirit. There are some trials such as physical or mental health or even spiritual struggles that will need other interventions.  Don’t assume that because someone is depressed they aren’t praying to be happy. There isn’t a level of righteousness that makes us immune to health challenges- that’s like Tom Cruise scientology stuff, that’s not us. Don’t tell someone with a wayward child that they should have read the scriptures with them more or held stricter family home evenings. My sister recently pointed out that there is no level of righteousness we can attain as parents that will take away our children’s agency. After all, God himself watched as a third part of his own children fell away. 

We might sometimes be surprised to find that those with questions and concerns and trials are already the ones who are attending the temple most, reading their scriptures most frequently or praying most fervently for answers and relief. It is often in these times of struggle that we can learn the most from the influence of the Spirit.

We seek the Spirit and feel his influence differently depending on our Spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians chapter 12 states:
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

As we study out what our spiritual gifts are we will find more meaningful ways of seeking and receiving from the Spirit.  We may even find that we are already feeling his influence in surprising ways.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave a BYU devotional entitled “Eight Ways God can Speak to You”.  Another title could be- Eight Ways the Spirit can influence you through Revelation.  I will just quickly name his ideas and give a quick summary of the implementation of those Revelations. As you listen to the list contemplate examples of how you may have already felt this influence in your own life.

1)      The testimony or witness of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ.
2)      Prophecy or speaking under the influence of the Holy Ghost (This can come through the Prophet for the whole church, our leaders for our local communities, and through us for ourselves and those for whom we are responsible)
3)      Comfort (peace as we make decisions)
4)      Uplift (from feelings of depression, foreboding or inadequacy)
5)      Inform (This could be inspiration for a talk, or lesson, or knowing what to say to others)
6)      Restraint (This keeps us from doing something we shouldn’t.  Sometimes we might know why we shouldn’t do it and in other cases we might not know.)
7)      Confirm (Neal A Maxwell said that Revelation is usually received to an already informed mind. Doctrine and Covenants reminds us to study things out in our mind and then ask if it be right)
8)      Impels (This is different from restraint or confirmation because in those cases revelation is being sought.  This is when the Revelation comes unprovoked to push us to action. Instances we’ve heard about might be to call someone immediately or check on a child who is then found to be in imminent danger)

As I thought about examples in my own life I was able to reflect upon when the Spirit has born testimony of my Savior as I’ve attended the temple.  The supreme joy that I felt at these times helps me when I begin to doubt or complain.  I can touch back to those times and hold on a little stronger. Perhaps that is why I love the words in Come Thou Fount of every blessing that reads:

“O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee
Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above”  

This has often been my prayer when my wandering heart feels all out of patience for the answers to come or inspiration to flow.

Many of the examples that came to my mind were of restraint. Probably because I love doing things that I know I shouldn’t. I have heard that softly whispered word- “Patience” in my mind so often I cannot count the experiences.  This restraint has saved me many times from speaking unkind words, giving up on myself, or even walking away from church. 

I’ve had experiences of comfort as I’ve decided what to study, who to marry, and when it was time to have another child.

I’ve had experiences of being uplifted when I was dealing with physical and mental health trials.

I’ve had instances where I’ve been impelled to call to see if someone was okay, or to stay away from a situation, or to check on my children.  A few of these instances have resulted in miraculous accounts but many more have resulted in me checking on a peacefully sleeping baby who is, in fact, not in danger or calling friend and having a lovely conversation but never knowing why I felt so strongly to call.

I’ve also been informed by the Spirit when I’ve given talks and taught lessons. I would quickly like to describe in a little more detail a recent example of when the Spirit informed me where to look for an answer and what to say to my daughters.  After church on Mother’s Day my daughters were concerned that we didn’t talk about motherhood at church during Sacrament. One of my daughters asked why we never talked about Heavenly Mother.   I first answered with my own reasoning but became self-conscience that I was maybe being too “Mormon feminist” with my answer so I tried to temper it by repeating an old explanation someone had given me as a youth. That answer was that God wanted to keep her reputation sacred and so he doesn’t want us to talk about her as much.  I was promptly informed by the Spirit that I had misspoken and that this was absolutely not true.   

That night after the kids went to bed I asked Alex if he and I could research a little bit about Heavenly Mother.  We were led to an LDS gospel topics page about her.  From there we were led to several resources that confirmed that there is in fact no doctrine about a “sacred silence” in regard to our Heavenly Mother.  In addition we also found a BYU study that compiled everything that has ever been said by general authorities about Her. I realized that the Spirit’s influence had not only informed me how to answer my daughter’s question, it also answered many unspoken questions I had about my own divine nature.  The next morning I was able to correct my answer to my children and now enjoy being able to freely talk and testify about my Heavenly Mother and Her desire for my daughters, and all of Her daughters, to become like her.

The last element of Spiritual influence that I want to talk about today is strength in numbers. A lot of us have probably seen the visual demonstration where the speaker snaps one toothpick in half easily but when you take a stack of 30 or 40 toothpicks they become stronger.  This is usually done to illustrate unity but I would like to talk about how that unity can lead to a stronger influence of the Spirit.

If we turn back to 1 Corinthians 12 and continue reading about spiritual gifts we learn why we are each given different gifts.  It reads:
12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
14 For the body is not one member, but many.

And a few chapters later in 1 Corinthians 14 it adds:
1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy…12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.

So what does this mean?  We are given spiritual gifts first to help ourselves seek and receive the Spirit.  But as we progress we are also given the influence of the Spirit in order to build up the kingdom and to edify the church! When we collaborate as men and women within a family, ward, stake and community we are able to increase that influence.  We learn in the temple that as we begin to become of one heart and one prayer that the Spirit can be more fully present and unrestrained.

In the book of Joel, speaking of our day it says:
28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.

We need each person to come and bring with them what they can.  As we welcome people from different genders, ages, walks of life, and geographical areas we increase the spiritual gifts in our ward and we increase the spiritual influence that can be felt here.  When we refrain from criticizing, judging, and gossiping we invite the Spirit to be here. When we praise, compliment, and give all members the opportunities to serve and preach we invite the Spirit to be here.  Linda K. Burton reminds us to ask “What if their story were my story?” We need everyone’s stories to be shared. Elder Holland told us we need all voices in the choir. As we become one body we become one with our Savior.  We become like Christ. And that is the ultimate purpose to seek the Spirit’s influence in our life…to become like our Savior and return to our Heavenly Parents.

And what is it called when we don’t judge?  And we aren’t puffed up. And we seeketh the Spirit instead of our own? Charity! Back to 1 Corinthians chapter 13, it reads:
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

When we seek the influence of the Spirit the result is charity.  Let us take what we each individually know and what we each individually prophesy and add to it a collective charity so that we might be perfected in Christ. Let’s be patient with ourselves and with one another as we each publicly or privately wrestle before God. 
We can feel the influence of the Spirit as we believe Christ when he says that we are His and will not be lost.  We feel the influence of the Spirit when we believe and preach that we are sons and daughters of Heavenly Parents to all of our friends and families. We feel the Spirit when we have faith and hope that our futures are in God’s hands. When we have patience in his timing. When we persevere even when his influence cannot immediately be felt. When we ask questions, answer questions, or help those who have lost sight of the path by loving them instead of condemning them. We can feel the influence of the Spirit when we gain knowledge and inform our minds. This means learning all we can from every good source we can.  Don’t resist listening to someone just because they are older or younger than you, or a woman, or a stranger, or belong to another faith.  Stay close to the Spirit so that you might be uplifted by the Spirit as it is made manifest in each person around you. As we do these things Christ will be in our homes, and our ward, and in our community and in our hearts.

I have a testimony that our Heavenly Father loves His children.  That our Heavenly Mother loves Her children.  That the Spirit is their gift to us. We are told in our confirmation ordinance “Receive the Holy Ghost”.  Reach out, accept this divine present, receive the Holy Ghost. The constant companionship of the Holy Ghost gives us the power to become priests and priestesses and to be the instruments our Heavenly Parents use to distribute that spiritual influence to the entirety of the world. 

I have a testimony that as we seek the influence of the Spirit and have charity we can be saved from the destructive forces that would divide us, weaken us and condemn us.  I love this gospel and I love the Holy Spirit that has saved me from myself more times than I can count. For this I am eternally grateful and say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sources and Inspiration:

Here is the lds.org gospel topics essay on Heavenly Mother:
https://www.lds.org/topics/mother-in-heaven?lang=eng

From there I followed one of the links to the BYU study "A Mother There"
https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/mother-there-survey-historical-teachings-about-mother-heaven

I also used some of the scriptures from this BYU devotional talk:
https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/eva-witesman_women-education-future-god-see/

And a devotional talk from Elder Oaks:
https://www.lds.org/new-era/2004/09/eight-ways-god-can-speak-to-you?lang=eng&_r=1


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