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The Spirit Will Guide

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During my mission in Hawaii, I remember an experience when I was giving a tour of the temple visitors’ center to a couple. The husband told me he had been a member of the church and was returning to activity and his wife was not a member. He wanted to show her the beauty of the temple and share his testimony with her. We had a lovely discussion. They were sweet and humble, and it felt like we were the only ones in the building. At one point during the tour, they asked me how I know when you feel the Spirit. I started to explain that the Spirit communicates to us all in our own unique way. I told them that the Spirit testifies of truth, and you can feel it when you come to the temple, or when someone shares their testimony. Then he said, “just like we can feel it radiating from you!” At that moment, I hadn’t considered that I had that influence on them, but as soon as he said that I felt a chill start at the bottom of my feet and rush to the top of my head. I had a witness that the Spirit truly was there, and that we all felt its influence.

I don’t recall a lot of instances where the Spirit guided me toward a particular area, or to visit a particular person. Even now, I don’t always think about it that way. But, I wonder if I don’t sometimes take these communications for granted. I have felt the guidance of the Spirit while teaching my children. I have also felt inspired around starting and continuing my podcast and other projects I’ve been working on. While those things may not directly be missionary work, I feel a strong impression that I am moving His work forward in a way that is unique to me. Sometimes, I feel prompted to share things on social media that are inspiring. I might feel prompted to comment on someone’s post to share my testimony.

“While serving a mission in England in 1840, President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98), then one of the Twelve Apostles, was prompted by the Spirit to go to the south of England. Through his efforts and the efforts of others serving with him, about 2,000 people were converted in the area of Herefordshire, Worcester, and Gloucester. Reflecting on this extraordinary period of his life, President Woodruff wrote: ‘The whole history of this Herefordshire mission shows the importance of listening to the still small voice of God and the revelations of the Holy Ghost. The Lord had a people there prepared for the Gospel. They were praying for light and truth, and the Lord sent me to them’ (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff [2004], 91).”

It can be easy to write off promptings, to ignore them, or call them coincidental. When we do that, we are not only limiting the Spirit’s impact, but we are also denying the power that is within us to bring about the Lord’s work even in our small and simple ways.

My experience has also revealed that there are times when the Spirit will guide us to do difficult things! Back in April, Michael and I felt very strongly that he needed to quit his job. He was miserable and insecure. We have begged the Lord for ten years that he might be able to find a satisfying, secure job, but one has never surfaced. The Great Recession was hard on his field, and he just hasn’t landed on the right job somehow. The only reason we can think of is that the Lord is designing a future for us that we just can’t see yet.

This was a very hard decision for Michael, but multiple spiritual promptings led us to the assurance that it was the right thing to do. Without financial reserves or a back-up plan other than some business projects I’ve been working on, we acted on the prompting, believing the Lord was directing us to do the right thing. Even though the timing was right for him to leave, things haven’t exactly panned out as we hoped, but we are still holding out faith that Heavenly Father is aware of us and our needs, and that He has a plan in all of this. We have felt our will purged out of us as we endeavor to align ourselves with His. We simply cannot see the whole picture. We can only do our best to follow. We are picking up and starting over with the assurance that we are being guided in the right direction.

We are the Offspring of God

Just as we may minimize the impact of the Spirit in our lives, I think it can also be easy to play small when we consider our real identity: “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device” (Acts 17:29). 

Through this journey of giving up his job and endeavoring to align ourselves with Heavenly Father’s will, Michael and I are learning how to define ourselves from a different perspective. It’s fascinating how often you meet someone and the first thing they want to know is your occupation. It’s difficult to come up with an answer when you are sort of between jobs. The thing is, Michael and I aren’t looking for jobs. We can’t be identified by our occupation because we are creating our own livelihood. That’s what we feel we are being directed to do.

Something I have learned from my years of homeschooling and entrepreneurial work is that there is rarely a script for how to accomplish many of the things we want to do that are different from what is mainstream. All we can do is rely on the Spirit guiding us. I’m not saying that everyone should quit their jobs and start educating their kids at home, but I have often felt like my role in teaching about family culture through my various platforms is to question why we do the things we do. When something we do is leading us away from the Savior inadvertently, then it’s time to question whether it’s right. It’s important to figure out what defines you. Anything that does not align with Heavenly Father’s plan is merely temporary.

In an address to the students at Brigham Young University, the President of the school said, “The primary purpose of our mortal existence is to help us become like our heavenly parents. One of the things we need to do in order to accomplish that purpose is to learn and apply truth in our lives. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that ‘it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance’ and that ‘a man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge.’ Thus learning is an essential part of not only our BYU experience but also this mortal phase of our quest for perfection.

“The scriptures teach that there are three main ways we can learn: one, by study; two, by faith; and, three, by experience. A lot has been written and spoken at BYU about how we learn by study and by faith, but we talk much less about how we learn from experience. Yet learning from experience is one of the essential purposes of our mortal existence” (Kevin J. Worthen, “Successfully Failing: Pursuing Our Quest for Perfection” January 6, 2015).

I can’t say yet why Michael and I were directed down this path we are on, but I do know that we are getting a lot of experience really quickly. Going through this experience has made the scriptures come to life in ways I never before imagined. My prayers are more sincere, and my faith in Heavenly Father has been crucial. I don’t expect to understand anything that He has planned for us, and I am hopeful and faithful that anything we experience in this life is to shape us for eternity and help us to become more like Him.

“Be careful how you characterize yourself. Don’t characterize or define yourself by some temporary quality. The only single quality that should characterize us is that we are a son or daughter of God. That fact transcends all other characteristics, including race, occupation, physical characteristics, honors, or even religious affiliation. …

“We have our agency, and we can choose any characteristic to define us. But we need to know that when we choose to define ourselves or to present ourselves by some characteristic that is temporary or trivial in eternal terms, we de-emphasize what is most important about us, and we overemphasize what is relatively unimportant. This can lead us down the wrong path and hinder our eternal progress” (President Dallin H. Oaks, “Be Wise” [devotional address given at Brigham Young University–Idaho, Nov. 7, 2006], byui.edu/presentations).

Paul taught the people that we are children of God in an effort to help the polytheistic Greeks understand the role of the “Unknown God”. He wanted them to understand that the true and living God created all things. This God “dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” meaning that He can’t be appeased by crafted idols (Acts 17:24-25). He is also our Father, and we are made in His image.

Paul spent a lot of time among the Gentiles teaching them about Christ. He also understood the principle of the gospel that all believers become His sons and daughters. Paul’s testimony of our divine inheritance is a powerful witness that we live through Him: “For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring“ (Acts 17:28).

Study the Scriptures daily + Law of Increasing Returns

Can you imagine hearing a profound new message from the Prophet of God for the very first time? Think of these Greeks hearing for the first time that they are children of God, and that Christ came to redeem them. I love that Paul approached the Greeks by talking about something familiar to them when he talked about this “Unknown God” just like when Ammon and Aaron taught the Lamanites by starting where they were with the “Great Spirit” and then teaching them the word (Alma 18, 19, 22). There are still people all over the world hearing the doctrines of Christ for the very first time, and they are going to start by correlating that message with doctrines they already know. So, why would it be so important for us to study the scriptures every day? It is the best way to become familiar with God’s word and recognize it when we hear it.

When Paul taught the Jews in Berea, they were “more noble” and “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). Because they studied the scriptures every day, they were more prepared to hear the word than the Thessalonians.

“It is certain that one who studies the scriptures every day accomplishes far more than one who devotes considerable time one day and then lets days go by before continuing. Not only should we study each day, but there should be a regular time set aside when we can concentrate without interference. … It would be ideal if an hour could be spent each day; but if that much cannot be had, a half hour on a regular basis would result in substantial accomplishment. A quarter of an hour is little time, but it is surprising how much enlightenment and knowledge can be acquired in a subject so meaningful” (President Howard W. Hunter, “Reading the Scriptures,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).

Sometimes, it can feel like reading our scriptures every day is too much. Or, we feel like reading every day doesn’t really give us the spiritual boost we are hoping for. It’s ok. There are times and seasons when those feelings will be undeniable, and times when it takes more effort and patience. In one of my favorite speeches given at BYU, Elder Henry B. Eyring said, “There are spiritual crops that require months, years, and sometimes a lifetime of cultivation before the harvest. Among them are spiritual rewards you want most. That shouldn’t surprise you. Common sense tells you that what matters most won’t come easily…The simple fact is that there is a God who wants us to have faith in him. He knows that to strengthen faith we must use it. And so he gives us the chance to use it by letting some of the spiritual rewards we want most be delayed. Instead of first effort yielding returns, with a steady decline, it’s the reverse. First efforts, and even second efforts, seem to yield little. And then the rewards begin, perhaps much later, to grow and grow” (“The Law of Increasing Returns” March 28, 1982).

Consistently studying the scriptures can sometimes seem tedious, but the promise is that over time, “by small and simple things” will compound upon each other and begin to yield immeasurable rewards (Alma 37:6).

That is what I am hoping and praying for! Since Michael left his job, he and I have been working on our business projects with little success. We can see our vision and plans for the future so vividly. With each project, each failed attempt, and each hurdle we are required to overcome, we are learning powerful lessons of perseverance and tenacity. Nothing worthwhile will just happen overnight. It takes wisdom and consistency.

Willingness to face adversity for the Lord

Paul knew he needed to return to Jerusalem. People around him warned him not to go because they knew he would be bound by the Jews there. Paul knew this and he answered: “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). Paul was willing to suffer even death for Jesus.

When Michael and I felt the witness that he needed to quit his job, it was terrifying. We still have days where we wonder when the Lord is going to step in and reveal why He had us make that decision. Other times, I feel a powerful sense that holding our ground will be the only way Heavenly Father can reveal His will for us. We knew going into this that it would be challenging. We have mourned for our situation more times than I’d like to admit. Still, we must follow the Lord’s plan and see it through.

Just as Paul knew that he would likely die for returning to Jerusalem, he could not deny the Spiritual guidance he’d received (Acts 18:21). He had a purpose there. He shared his conversion story, and witnessed to the Jews of Jesus, but Paul was accused, beaten, bound, and imprisoned there. He had a difficult journey.

“Men changed for Christ will be captained by Christ. … Their will is swallowed up in His will. (See John 5:30.) They do always those things that please the Lord. (See John 8:29.) Not only would they die for the Lord, but more important they want to live for Him” (President Ezra Taft Benson,“Born of God,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 6).

“A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things” (Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, 6:7).

There is a plan for even the hardest things we have to endure. Joseph Smith learned that even the most terrifying trials are for our good and to give us experience (D&C 122:7). That’s a hard pill to swallow, and doesn’t sound very comforting sometimes. The promise is that even when deliverance feels so far off, we may receive immediate blessings and comfort.

“The immediate goodness of God comes to all who call upon Him with real intent and full purpose of heart. This includes those who cry out in earnest desperation, when deliverance seems so distant and suffering seems prolonged, even intensified.

“So it was with a young prophet who suffered to the brink in the dank of a dungeon before finally crying out: ‘O God, where art thou? … How long shall thy hand be stayed … ? Yea, O Lord, how long … ?’ In response, the Lord did not immediately deliver Joseph, but He did immediately pronounce peace.

“God also gives immediate hope for eventual deliverance. No matter what, no matter where, in Christ and through Christ there is always hope smiling brightly before us. Immediately before us” (“The Immediate Goodness of God” Kyle S. McKay, General Conference, April 2019).

It’s OK to cry out in desperation, when we just can’t handle the pain or sorrow any longer. Those are the times when the Savior will, “as He had done with Peter of old, Jesus [will stretch] forth His hand and [catch your] sinking soul [Matthew 14:31]” (“The Immediate Goodness of God” Kyle S. McKay, General Conference, April 2019).

More blessed to give than receive

Paul showed us by his example his willingness to serve. “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:33-35).

Each of us are endowed with unique gifts and talents. In order to live in abundance, we have to be willing to have an open channel of giving and receiving. Like the parable of the talents, we gain more by using our talents and return those gains to the Lord.

In my youth, my family would have to drive up to forty-five minutes to an hour away to go to Stake activities. I would often groan and complain about the drive and wonder if it was worth it whenever our Stake hosted youth firesides. My dad always told me that the anticipation of spiritual things is always less than the realization, while the anticipation of temporal things is always greater than the realization. My dad wanted me to understand that going to these activities and strengthening my testimony will always have immeasurable gains, and that carnal desires are never as fulfilling as we hope. He was right. I never felt as good staying home from those activities as I felt after going and feeling the Spirit and seeing my friends. I started to participate in the activities to serve other youth. At girls’ camp, I thrived as a Youth Camp Leader encouraging other girls who felt insecure and shy. I knew what it was like to be in their shoes and feel painfully shy.

I have been in wards where the culture was not about showing up to give. Few people were willing to speak up and make comments. People groaned at callings or invitations to speak in church. We had low turnout to activities. It was shocking how few people made eye contact with you while walking through the halls of the building. There was coldness and distrust. There is no room for this kind of culture in the Lord’s church. It is difficult to recover from this kind of culture.

Building trust and rapport requires us to be vulnerable enough to give something of ourselves. All it takes is a few people being willing to share and lead out and create a culture of giving. It starts with an attitude of coming to church with the intent to give, to look for someone who needs you. We all feel lost at times and wonder where we belong. We always belong in a place where we show up and look for ways to use our individual talents to give, solve problems, and be authentic.

“Most people don’t come to church looking merely for a few new gospel facts or to see old friends, though all of that is important. They come seeking a spiritual experience. They want peace. They want their faith fortified and their hope renewed. They want, in short, to be nourished by the good word of God, to be strengthened by the powers of heaven. Those of us who are called upon to speak or teach or lead have an obligation to help provide that, as best we possibly can” (Elder Jeffery R. Holland, “A Teacher Come from God,” Ensign, May 1998, 26; see also commentary for John 21:15–17).

Applying this lesson

  1. Pray for opportunities to see someone who needs your unique gifts when you go to church, or in your morning prayers each day. Follow the promptings to do those things that only you can do.
  2. Make a goal to read the scriptures every day. Even if you only plan to read a few verses a day at first, start there. Then gradually increase your goal. Set a time each day when you will read. Keep your promise to yourself that you will read.
  3. Take inventory of your life. Do you feel like your goals are bringing you closer to the Lord? Does your environment elevate your life? Check out my episode on how your environment should lead you toward the future of growth rather than hold you back from growing: https://homeandfamilyculture.com/episode-076-laura-staley/
  4. Summertime is a great time to go back to basics. Start over with only doing things as a family. Do chores together. Read scriptures together. Have meals together. Serve together. Only add those things to your life that strengthen you.
  5. Record in your journal times when you felt prompted to do something that scared you. What was the outcome? Did you feel the sustaining power of the Spirit during or after you did it? How did you grow from that experience?
  6. Share your testimony about doing something that stretched your faith and helped you grow.