Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE

Cover image via Gospel Media Library.

As the number of disciples grew, the Twelve chose and set apart seven men to assist them in ministering to widows and those in need, two of whom were Stephen and Philip.  “Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders among the people” (Acts 6:8).  Certain men hired false witnesses to speak against Stephen, and he was tried before the Sanhedrin. They accused him of attempting to change the customs and rites of the law of Moses, and of threatening to destroy the temple.

As Stephen begins to answer these charges, the members of the council looked steadfastly upon him, and “saw his face as it had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15) – no doubt shining with the light of testimony, as did the face of Moses as he descended from Mt. Sinai. After rehearsing the history of the covenant people from Abraham to Moses, Stephen told of the rejection of the prophets by the ancient Israelites. In verse 51, Stephen indicts his accusers of the same crime as their Israelite fathers saying “ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.”  He charges them with persecuting and killing the very men who had prophesied of the “prophet like unto Moses” whom the Lord would raise up.  These prophets had foretold of “the Just One, of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murders” (Acts 7:52).  They could not tolerate such accusations, which cut them “to the heart,” and they cast him out and stoned him.  As he lay dying, he proclaimed his testimony, much as did Abinadi, and with shining faith proclaimed his vision of the heavens opening and “the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56)

Resisting the Holy Ghost

Stephen accuses these religious leaders with “resisting the Holy Ghost. What does it mean to resist the Holy Ghost”?  What do the scriptures add to this idea?

Mosiah 2:36-37  “After ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom’s paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, preserved . . . the man that doeth this [withdraw from the Spirit], the same cometh out in open rebellion against God, . . and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him.”

Alma 10:5-6  Amulek states that he did not know much of the ways of the Lord, but then says “but behold, I mistake, for I have seen much of his mysteries and his marvelous power . . . Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear.”

So, it seems that “resisting the Holy Ghost” consists of “withdrawing yourself” from the influence of the Spirit.  And when we DO get promptings from the Holy Ghost, we seemingly “will not hear.” Why might we do so? Has this ever happened to you?

Every person born into this world automatically and instinctively knows right and wrong because of the universally bestowed “conscience.” D&C 84:46-47 “And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit. Every one that hearkeneth to unto the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.”  If we follow the light, where will we eventually end up?  The light pulls us to the Father.  D&C 88:40 states that “light cleaveth unto light.” Because we are integrally attracted to goodness, we have to really try to reject our natural inclination to do the right thing. 

Native Americans have a tradition that portrays the conscience as a spinning triangle inside your heart.  When you do things wrong, the points of the triangle prick the sides of your heart.  When you harden your heart, the points of the triangle break off and the triangle becomes a spinning disc, and “pricks” of conscience are no longer felt.  The person is “beyond feeling.”

The scriptures also use the words “their hearts waxed cold.”  It is easy to picture soft wax hardening into something that is brittle and unpliable. This happens gradually as a light-emitting candle is extinguished, and the once malleable wax becomes rigid and unbendable.  A powerful image to consider!

The ultimate irony of “resisting the spirit” is found in John 1:10-11.  Christ, who made the world and all that is in it, is rejected by it!  He came unto his own, and his own received him not!  What do we, as members of the Church today, think about this statement?  Is this happening today?  Is this happening to ME on occasion?  We need figure out a way to make sure this does not happen in our own hearts.  We need to ensure that our hearts will not be hard and reject the light.  In searching the scriptures, I came upon a recurring theme – gratitude engenders humility and works against self-will and pride. 

Gratitude can lead to experiences with the Holy Ghost.

I love this quote from Michael Wilcox: “Expressing gratitude brings us humility. In a world where we have been given so much and might be severely tempted to pride, gratitude stands as a barrier, for one cannot feel pride and gratitude at the same time.” (Ensign, January 2005)

Henry B. Eyring adds that gratitude can lead us to have experiences with the Holy Ghost.  “You could have an experience with the gift of the Holy Ghost today. You could begin a private prayer with thanks. You could start to count your blessings, and then pause for a moment. If you exercise faith, and with the gift of the Holy Ghost, you will find that memories of other blessings will flood into your mind. If you begin to express gratitude for each of them, your prayer may take a little longer than usual. Remembrance will come. And so will gratitude.” (Ensign, November 1989)

Alma 34:38 Amulek admonishes the people to “contend no more against the Holy Ghost.” He encourages them to “live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.”

Henry B. Eyring’s talk O Remember, Remember has had a great impact in my life.  (Ensign, November 2007) He writes:

When our children were very small, I started to write down a few things about what happened every day. Let me tell you how that got started. I came home late from a Church assignment. It was after dark. My father-in-law, who lived near us, surprised me as I walked toward the front door of my house. He was carrying a load of pipes over his shoulder, walking very fast and dressed in his work clothes. I knew that he had been building a system to pump water from a stream below us up to our property.

He smiled, spoke softly, and then rushed past me into the darkness to go on with his work. I took a few steps toward the house, thinking of what he was doing for us, and just as I got to the door, I heard in my mind—not in my own voice—these words: “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.”

I went inside. I didn’t go to bed. Although I was tired, I took out some paper and began to write. And as I did, I understood the message I had heard in my mind. I was supposed to record for my children to read, someday in the future, how I had seen the hand of God blessing our family. Grandpa didn’t have to do what he was doing for us. He could have had someone else do it or not have done it at all. But he was serving us, his family, in the way covenant disciples of Jesus Christ always do. I knew that was true. And so I wrote it down, so that my children could have the memory someday when they would need it.

I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.

More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.

The years have gone by. My boys are grown men. And now and then one of them will surprise me by saying, “Dad, I was reading in my copy of the journal about when …” and then he will tell me about how reading of what happened long ago helped him notice something God had done in his day.

My point is to urge you to find ways to recognize and remember God’s kindness. It will build our testimonies.  It won’t be easy to remember. Living as we do with a veil over our eyes, we cannot remember what it was like to be with our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in the premortal world; nor can we see with our physical eyes or with reason alone the hand of God in our lives. Seeing such things takes the Holy Ghost. And it is not easy to be worthy of the Holy Ghost’s companionship in a wicked world.

I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.

More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.

Could this help us to better recognize and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost?

President Eyring has admonished us to “find ways to recognize and remember God’s kindness. Seeing such things takes the Holy Ghost.”  When we consciously exert effort to review our daily lives, searching for the presence of God’s hand, we will naturally be aided by the Holy Ghost who will “bring all things to [our] remembrance” (John 14:26). 

Years ago, a devotional speaker talked about how Spencer W. Kimball learned to discern revelation from his own private thoughts.  He kept notebooks in which he would record his impressions, the actions he took, and the resultant outcomes.  Gradually, he learned to tell which feelings were from the Lord. (I wish I had a source for this story.)

Responding to and recording experiences with the Holy Ghost can lead to further personal revelation.

Richard G. Scott has provided additional guidance on how we can recognize promptings from the Holy Ghost, and even receive further personal revelation. He speaks of a visit to Mexico, to a Sunday School class taught by a humble man who had a pure love of the Savior. He writes:

I was deeply touched. Then I began to receive personal impressions as an extension of the principles taught by that humble instructor. They were personal and related to my assignments in the area. They came in answer to my prolonged, prayerful efforts to learn.

As each impression came, I carefully wrote it down. In the process, I was given precious truths that I greatly needed in order to be a more effective servant of the Lord. The details of the communication are sacred and, like a patriarchal blessing, were for my individual benefit. I was given specific directions, instructions, and conditioned promises that have beneficially altered the course of my life.

Subsequently, I visited the Sunday School class in our ward, where a very well-educated teacher presented his lesson. That experience was in striking contrast to the one enjoyed in the priesthood meeting. It seemed to me that the instructor had purposely chosen obscure references and unusual examples to illustrate the principles of the lesson. I had the distinct impression that this instructor was using the teaching opportunity to impress the class with his vast store of knowledge. At any rate, he certainly did not seem as intent on communicating principles as had the humble priesthood leader.

In that environment, strong impressions began to flow to me again. I wrote them down. The message included specific counsel on how to become more effective as an instrument in the hands of the Lord. I received such an outpouring of impressions that were so personal that I felt it was not appropriate to record them in the midst of a Sunday School class. I sought a more private location, where I continued to write the feelings that flooded into my mind and heart as faithfully as possible. After each powerful impression was recorded, I pondered the feelings I had received to determine if I had accurately expressed them in writing. As a result, I made a few minor changes to what had been written. Then I studied their meaning and application in my own life.

Subsequently I prayed, reviewing with the Lord what I thought I had been taught by the Spirit. When a feeling of peace came, I thanked Him for the guidance given. I was then impressed to ask, “Was there yet more to be given?” I received further impressions, and the process of writing down the impressions, pondering, and praying for confirmation was repeated. Again, I was prompted to ask, “Is there more I should know?” And there was. When that last, most sacred experience was concluded, I had received some of the most precious, specific, personal direction one could hope to obtain in this life. Had I not responded to the first impressions and recorded them, I would not have received the last, most precious guidance.

What I have described is not an isolated experience. It embodies several true principles regarding communication from the Lord to His children here on earth. I believe that you can leave the most precious, personal direction of the Spirit unheard because you do not respond to, record, and apply the first promptings that come to you.

Impressions of the Spirit can come in response to urgent prayer or unsolicited when needed. Sometimes the Lord reveals truth to you when you are not actively seeking it, such as when you are in danger and do not know it. However, the Lord will not force you to learn. You must exercise your agency to authorize the Spirit to teach you. As you make this a practice in your life, you will be more perceptive to the feelings that come with spiritual guidance. Then, when that guidance comes, sometimes when you least expect it, you will recognize it more easily.

The inspiring influence of the Holy Spirit can be overcome or masked by strong emotions, such as anger, hate, passion, fear, or pride. When such influences are present, it is like trying to savor the delicate flavor of a grape while eating a jalapeño pepper. Both flavors are present, but one completely overpowers the other. In like manner, strong emotions overcome the delicate promptings of the Holy Spirit. (“To Acquire Spiritual Guidance,” Conference Report, October 2009)

The ABC’s of obtaining personal revelation from the Holy Ghost

Elder Scott gives us more specifics about this in an address delivered three years later. Here, he practically gives a list of the ABC’s of obtaining personal revelation from Holy Ghost.  We would do well to ponder his message.

There are some practical principles that enhance revelation. First, yielding to emotions such as anger or hurt or defensiveness will drive away the Holy Ghost. Those emotions must be eliminated, or our chance for receiving revelation is slight.

Another principle is to be cautious with humor. Loud, inappropriate laughter will offend the Spirit. A good sense of humor helps revelation; loud laughter does not. A sense of humor is an escape valve for the pressures of life.

Another enemy to revelation comes from exaggeration or loudness in what is stated. Careful, quiet speech will favor the receipt of revelation.

On the other hand, spiritual communication can be enhanced by good health practices. Exercise, reasonable amounts of sleep, and good eating habits increase our capacity to receive and understand revelation. We will live for our appointed life span. However, we can improve both the quality of our service and our well-being by making careful, appropriate choices.

It is important that our daily activities do not distract us from listening to the Spirit.

Revelation can also be given in a dream when there is an almost imperceptible transition from sleep to wakefulness. If you strive to capture the content immediately, you can record great detail, but otherwise it fades rapidly. Inspired communication in the night is generally accompanied by a sacred feeling for the entire experience. The Lord uses individuals for whom we have great respect to teach us truths in a dream because we trust them and will listen to their counsel. It is the Lord doing the teaching through the Holy Ghost. However, He may in a dream make it both easier to understand and more likely to touch our hearts by teaching us through someone we love and respect.

When it is for the Lord’s purposes, He can bring anything to our remembrance. That should not weaken our determination to record impressions of the Spirit. Inspiration carefully recorded shows God that His communications are sacred to us. Recording will also enhance our ability to recall revelation. Such recording of direction of the Spirit should be protected from loss or intrusion by others.

The scriptures give eloquent confirmation of how truth, consistently lived, opens the door to inspiration to know what to do and, where needed, to have personal capacities enhanced by divine power. The scriptures depict how an individual’s capacity to conquer difficulty, doubt, and seemingly insurmountable challenges is strengthened by the Lord in time of need. As you ponder such examples, there will come a quiet confirmation through the Holy Spirit that their experiences are true. You will come to know that similar help is available to you. (“How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life,” Conference Report, April 2012)

In short, the Lord WANTS to give his children revelation. He wants to give them as much as they will accept.  We need to show the Lord that we value and recognize the pearls of knowledge that he reveals to us.  If we take the time to record them and ponder them, we are likely to receive even more than we have asked for! In this age or readily available voice-activated recording options, it seems that there is no excuse for not doing this simple thing.  The sincere seeker of truth will easily recognize this.

A friend and colleague, Larry W. Tippetts, has written a book on this subject, Receiving Personal Revelation: Using a Journal to Improve Your Communication with God.  He says, “A student shared an experience he had with Elder Richard G. Scott, who had visited his mission several years earlier. The returned missionary said that Elder Scott, while speaking in a zone conference, asked all of his missionaries to hold their pens high up over their heads. Elder Scott did the same and said, ‘Your pen is your antenna to the receipt of personal revelation.’” (page 58)

However, Brother Tippetts makes the point that “many who keep a journal record even interesting events of their day without seeing the hand of God. Some form of revelation from God is constant. Like radio waves, God’s divine signals to His children are always there. He is always communicating through the Light of Christ (our conscience), the Holy Ghost, and other people, as well as through nature, music, and events. Too often, we may be oblivious to such impressions, or if we sense them, we fail to recognize them as divine communication. (pp. 58-59) We ourselves must be actively looking for the hand of God in our lives in order to see it. 

Brother Tippetts writes, “What will we do when revelation comes? Is it enough to simply feel good about receiving light and truth from our Heavenly Father? Doesn’t every revelation simply some kind of action or response on our part? What are the consequences or forgetting? How do we keep revelation alive (remembered and applied) and ongoing (additional light, the next step)?  Your journal can be instrumental in answering these questions.” (p. 43)

Brother Tippetts continues, “Some people who are very serious about physical fitness or who need to overcome an injury employ the services of a personal trainer or therapist. To customize a training program especially for their needs and objectives. Consider the Holy Ghost as your personal spiritual therapist. As you grow in your ability to recognize and hear His voice, you can draw upon the divine assistance God desires to give us.” (p.49)

The benefits of keeping such a journal seem obvious, but simply starting such an endeavor seems daunting, at best.  As with most things, the desire to do so must be very powerful.

The Road to Damascus

Let us return to the question at hand.  Stephen asked his accusers, “Why do ye resist the Holy Ghost?” Why, indeed, would someone “resist the Holy Ghost?”  A good example of such a person is Saul.  In one of the most remarkable events in the history of the world, a hostile Saul was changed on the road to Damascus. Dieter F. Uchtdorf made this experience the topic of his April General Conference address in 2011.

You know well the story of Saul, a young man who had “made havock of the church, entering into every house … [committing the Saints] to prison.” Saul was so hostile that many members of the early Church fled Jerusalem in the hope of escaping his anger.

Saul pursued them. But as he “came near Damascus … suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:

“And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:3-4)

This transformative moment changed Saul forever. Indeed, it changed the world.

We know that manifestations such as this happen. In fact, we testify that a similar divine experience happened in 1820 to a boy named Joseph Smith. Nevertheless, there are some who feel that unless they have an experience similar to Saul’s or Joseph Smith’s, they cannot believe. They stand at the waters of baptism but do not enter. They wait at the threshold of testimony but cannot bring themselves to acknowledge the truth. Instead of taking small steps of faith on the path of discipleship, they want some dramatic event to compel them to believe. They spend their days waiting on the road to Damascus. 

There are many others who, for different reasons, find themselves waiting on the road to Damascus. They delay becoming fully engaged as disciples. They hope to receive the priesthood but hesitate to live worthy of that privilege. They desire to enter the temple but delay the final act of faith to qualify. They remain waiting for the Christ to be given to them like a magnificent Carl Bloch painting—to remove once and for all their doubts and fears.

The truth is, those who diligently seek to learn of Christ eventually will come to know Him. They will personally receive a divine portrait of the Master, although it most often comes in the form of a puzzle—one piece at a time. Each individual piece may not be easily recognizable by itself; it may not be clear how it relates to the whole. Each piece helps us to see the big picture a little more clearly. Eventually, after enough pieces have been put together, we recognize the grand beauty of it all. Then, looking back on our experience, we see that the Savior had indeed come to be with us—not all at once but quietly, gently, almost unnoticed.

Quietly, gently, almost unnoticed

I love these words! We must learn to recognize each piece of the puzzle as we receive it. As we have discussed above, we need the Holy Ghost to help us recognize these gems of truth as we try to put each “tender mercy” into the giant scheme of God’s truth. I especially love the words “quietly, gently, almost unnoticed.” This is how the voice of the Lord speaks. These are the quiet intimations of the Spirit. We have to be acutely attuned to their quiet nudges. This requires active listening.

Elder Uchtdorf adds that often, God “speaks to us in ways that we can hear only with our heart. To better hear His voice, it would be wise to turn down the volume control of the worldly noise in our lives. If we ignore or block out the promptings of the Spirit for whatever reason, they become less noticeable until we cannot hear them at all.” He urges us to eagerly hearken to these promptings.  What does “hearken” mean? Not only to listen, but also to obey.

Elder Uchtdorf urges, “let us strive to be among those whom the Lord can rely on to hear His whisperings and respond, as Saul did on his road to Damascus, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6)

Answers come as we serve

“Another reason we sometimes do not recognize the voice of the Lord in our lives is because the revelations of the Spirit may not come directly to us as the answer to our prayers,” says Elder Uchtdorf. “The answer may come through the voice and wisdom of trusted friends and family, the scriptures, and the words of prophets. Often, the answer to our prayer does not come while we’re on our knees but while we’re on our feet serving the Lord and serving those around us. Selfless acts of service and consecration refine our spirits, remove the scales from our spiritual eyes, and open the windows of heaven. By becoming the answer to someone’s prayer, we often find the answer to our own.”

The Lord entrusts truth to those willing to share it with others.

There is another aspect to receiving promptings from the Holy Ghost and personal revelation. Elder Uchtdorf says, “There are times when the Lord reveals to us things that are intended only for us. Nevertheless, in many, many cases He entrusts a testimony of the truth to those who will share it with others.” In other words, if the Lord tells us something, He expects us to share it with others. If I find a great sale at my favorite store, I can’t wait to share the news with my friends. This is how we need to feel. We need to be willing to “open our mouths.” My husband is the ward mission leader and tries to assure people that this does not have to be scary! Just be natural with people. When they ask you how your weekend was, Elder Uchtdorf urges us to try to skip the usual topics—like sports events, movies, or the weather—and try to share some religious experiences you had as a family over the weekend. For, instance, we could share what a youth speaker had said about the standards from For the Strength of Youth or how we were touched by the words of a young man who was leaving on his mission or how the gospel and the Church helped us as a family to overcome a specific challenge we had. He said his wife Harriet “was always the best at finding something inspirational, uplifting, or humorous to share. This often would lead to more in-depth discussions. Interestingly enough, whenever we talked with friends about coping with life’s challenges, we often heard the comment ‘It’s easy for you; you have your church.’”

I loved this final admonition – “Brothers and sisters, with the blessings of modern technology, we can express gratitude and joy about God’s great plan for His children in a way that can be heard not only around our workplace but around the world. Sometimes a single phrase of testimony can set events in motion that affect someone’s life for eternity.”

Of course, the most effective way to preach the gospel is by example. We have often heard the thought from St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” Elder Uchtdorf admonishes, “Opportunities to do so are all around us. Do not miss them by waiting too long on the road to Damascus.”

This ties in perfectly with the reading from this lesson about Philip and the man from Ethiopia in Acts 8:26-39.  The Holy Ghost will help you know what to say when sharing the gospel with others – in learning to be a “guide” as Philip was. 

On our mission to Long Beach California, Elder Steven R. Bangerter spoke at a mission conference and spoke to the missionaries about “opening their mouths.” He shared several amazing missionary experiences.

The first was about a missionary who had a background in cattle ranching. This missionary knocked on a door and a man came to the door and said he wasn’t interested. The missionary said that was all right, but as he spoke with the man, he could hear the TV show the man was listening to in the background.  He told him the name of the show and said that when that particular film was being made, the film producers approached him to see if they could use his prize steer in one particular scene.  He knew which scene it was in, and he knew it was coming up soon.  He asked the man, “I know you’re not interested in our message, but would you mind if I just came in and watched the scene with my prize steer?”  The man let him in, made a connection, and he was later baptized. Believe it or not, it happened!

Another missionary approached a man on the street who was polishing his car. He admired the car. “Is this your car?” “Yes…” “What color is it?”  “Red…”  “What kind is it?” “A Ferrari.”  They connected and the man was baptized… 

This next story is about Elder Gifford Nielsen’s son.  He was on his mission, and he had just come from the house of an investigator who was trying to quit smoking.  He had taken away his prize lighter as an incentive to help him quit.  He saw a man trying in vain to light a cigarette.  He said, “Can I help you light your cigarette?”  He offered him the lighter and the rest is history. It’s all about connecting, in whatever way you can do it.  You need to be willing to listen to the Spirit. 

“What Wilt Thou Have Me to Do?”

When I looked at my assigned topic for July and saw that this was the title of the lesson, I had to chuckle.  How many times in my life had I uttered those words, and experienced amazing consequences?  I am sure I am not alone. I will not take the time to give examples, because they sound unbelievable!  If I had not experienced them myself, I would not have believed such things could happen. The Lord is even in the little details.  Repeating the words of my prayers in the scriptures I am led to. At this moment, I am trying to find the answer to this question myself. I have felt that I needed a new purpose after being totally engaged in full-time missionary work for the last year and a half. I have received guidance, but the outlines of the details are fuzzy. I am working daily to fill in the puzzle pieces, as it were.  Slowly, this is happening. Every day I find a few more pieces that fit together. I have total confidence that one day the entire picture will appear. Meanwhile, I am enjoying the ride! I keep a blank yellow notepad next to my bedside table ready to record the impressions I receive.  I have no doubt that when we place ourselves in the Lord’s hands, and seek only to do His will, we can become instruments in his hands.